Smoke took advantage of the furious storm to break camp and move north. He moved carefully, taking his time, and rode up to just south of Jenny Lake. It took him two days to make those few miles. The yellow arrowleaf balsamroot blossoms were just opening and, when he crossed the little valley, he seemed to be moving through a living sea of yellow and green. He made little effort to hide his tracks. He had heard the gunfire after he’d left the woman’s tent, and knew his words had been wasted. And it had saddened him. Von Hausen and his people were not going to quit. They were going to continue pushing him, pressing him, until he would be forced to start shedding blood.
Their blood, not his.
Smoke caught his supper from the lake and after eating, moved his camp back into the rocks where he was protected from prying eyes, the wind, and bullets.
The next morning he found a secluded and well-protected place for his horses, with plenty of water and graze. He rigged a pack for himself and chose the weapons he would take that day-and they were formidable ones. He stuck a packet of crackers into his pack and set out, skirting the meadow he’d crossed and staying in the timber as much as possible as he back-tracked to the trail he’d used coming in.
There was no point in kidding himself any longer. He had run out of options; run out of ways to try to convince those chasing him to give it up. Those coming after him were not going to quit. This was going to be a fight to the finish so, he concluded, let us get on with it.
At the trail, he rigged a swing trap using a limber limb, a length of rope, and a stake set off the trail. Someone was going to have a very messed-up face when the horse triggered the rope placed close to the ground. Further on up the trail he rigged a deadfall employing the same methods. Then he carefully chose a defensive position and waited for the action to start.
Nick was at the point, riding slowly, scanning the terrain ahead of him. Jensen had left plenty of sign to follow, so there was a need to look at the ground only occasionally. His horse’s hoof hit the rope and the limb sprang forward. Nick took the full force of the green limb in the face, slapping him out of the saddle, smashing his mouth and nose, and knocking him unconscious. He was still out, sprawled on the ground, when Pat Gilman found him.
“Hold it up!” Pat shouted, swinging down from the saddle. “John T. Up here, Nick’s down.”
“He ain’t dead,” John T. said, kneeling down beside the bloody Nick. “But his face is some messed up. Lost some teeth and busted his nose for sure.” But Jensen isn’t killing, he thought. We’ll all take some bumps and bruises, but that’s a damn sight better than taking a bullet.
“Oh, I say now,” Hans said, riding up and looking at the bloody Nick, sitting up and bathing his face with a wet cloth. “This isn’t playing fair at all. The man obviously is no sportsman.”
John T. glanced up at the man, thinking: and none of you is playin’ with a full deck, either. I never met no people like you in all my days. You’re all nuts! If Jensen hadn’t run his string out, you’d all see that this here ain’t no damn game.
“Can he ride?” von Hausen asked.
“Yeah,” John T. told him. “Just as soon as he comes to his senses. He took a pretty good lick in the face.”
“I’ll get the medical kit,” Gunter said, waving to a man leading a pack horse.
“Scout on ahead,” von Hausen told a gunfighter from Nevada. “And keep your eyes open for more booby traps.”
The hired gun nodded and moved out. He was soon lost from sight in the lush wilderness. The brush and timber and undergrowth was so thick a horses’ hooves could not be heard more than a few yards away.
John T. stood up from his squat and met the eyes of Frederick von Hausen.
He knows, John T. thought.
He knows, Frederick von Hausen thought.
The man from Nevada accidentally missed the deadfall when he left the trail and rode for a few hundred yards in the timber. He was riding with his rifle across the saddle horn. He turned and got back on the trail. The trail wound around a jumble of huge boulders. The man from Nevada pulled up short and tight when he saw Smoke Jensen standing in the trail right in front of him, his right hand hovering near the butt of a pistol.
“I tried to warn you the best I could,” Smoke said. “But none of you would listen.”
The man from Nevada stared at Jensen. His mouth was cotton-dry.
“None of you can say I didn’t try,” Smoke said.
“Now what?” the man from Nevada managed get his tongue to working.
“Make your play, gunfighter.”
“I ain’t got a chance thisaway.”
“That’s your problem. You’re chasing me, not the other way around.”
The man from Nevada suddenly turned his horse, jerked up his rifle and eared the hammer back. Smoke let him get the hammer back before he drew. He shot the man one time, the slug striking the man from Nevada just under the armpit, right side, and blowing out the other side. The gunslinger tumbled from the saddle, dead before he hit the ground.
Smoke vanished back behind the boulders and picked up his rifle. “Come on,” he muttered to the winds. “All bets are off now.”
Everybody was in the saddle and moving as the sounds of the single shot filtered faintly to them. John T.’s horse triggered the deadfall and the logs came crashing down, blocking the trail behind him and putting several horses into a panic. They bucked and snorted and tossed Gunter to the ground, knocking the wind from the man. Briscoe’s horse reared up and the gunfighter fought to regain control. His horse’s hooves slammed against the flank of the horse Marlene was riding. Her horse jumped in fear and Marlene’s butt hit the ground. She squalled in shock and sprawled quite unladylike in the hoof-churned mud. She said a lot of very ugly words, in several languages.
John. T. left the saddle in a flying dive when he spotted the body of the man from Nevada. A slug whined wickedly just as he left the saddle. If he had waited another second, his brains would have been splattered against a tree.
So much for Jensen losing his nerve, John T. thought, as he hugged the ground.
Smoke’s second shot tore the saddle horn off and the horse bolted in fear. Leo Grant came riding up and Smoke sighted him in and fired just as Leo turned in the saddle, the .44-.40 slug taking him high in his left arm. Leo screamed in pain but managed to stay in the saddle and jump his horse into the timber.
Smoke had lost the element of surprise and knew it. He grabbed up his pack and ran into the timber behind the jumbled mass of boulders.
“Stay back!” John T. yelled down the trail. “Stay back and get down. Get off those horses and get into the timber.”
“Oh, damn!” Leo moaned. “I think my wing’s busted. Jesus, it hurts.”
“Quit complainin’,” John T. told him. “You’ll live.”
“Is Matt dead?” Utah called, crawling through the brush.
“Near as I can tell, he is,” John T. returned the call. “Leastwise he ain’t movin’ and they’s an awful lot of blood on the ground.”
“Damn!” Utah said. “Guess we was both wrong about Jensen.”
“Yeah. Von Hausen had the same idea, I’m thinkin’. We all misjudged Jensen.”
Smoke had moved back into the timber for a ways, then cut south, making his way through the timber silently and coming up in back of the group.
Larry Kelly turned to glance nervously at his back trail and his eyes widened in shock and fear. Smoke Jensen was standing in the center of the trail.
“Oh, no,” he said, just as Smoke lifted his rifle and pulled the trigger.
The slug took Larry dead center in his stomach with the same effects as a blow with a sledgehammer. The force of it doubled him over and dropped him to the trail, screaming as the pain surged through him, white-hot fingers that seemed to touch every nerve in the man.
Smoke jumped to the other side of the trail and vanished. But he didn’t vanish for long.
A stick of dynamite, tied to a short length of broken off limb came sputtering through the air.
“Goddamn!” Valdes yelled. “That’s
Then he hit the ground and said a prayer. It was said very quickly.
The dynamite exploded and horses went running in blind panic in all directions. The pack animals ran into the timber, losing their packs and sending supplies scattering everywhere. Another stick of dynamite came hissing through the air and landed near Maria. When it blew the concussion lifted her off the ground and sent her tumbling down the hill. She landed in a creek, banged her head on a rock, and came up sputtering and yelling.
Nat Reed tried to cross the trail to get a shot at Smoke and a bullet burned his face, taking a chunk of meat out of his cheek. Thinking he was more seriously wounded, Nat bellied down on the ground and started hollering that he was dying.
The wilderness became silent; no more dynamite was thrown, no more shots. But the people of the von Hausen party did not move from their cover for several minutes. With the exception of Maria. She had crawled from the icy waters of the creek to lay huddling, trembling, and sobbing behind a large rock.
“He’s gone,” John T. announced, his voice reaching those sprawled on the ground, crouched behind trees, and hiding in the bushes. John T. stood up and walked over to Larry Kelly who lay on the ground, his legs drawn up and both hands holding onto his .44-.40 punctured belly.
“Help me!” the gun-for-hire said.
“You know there ain’t nothin’ nobody can do,” John T. told him. “We’ll build a fire and make you comfortable, Larry. That’s about it.”
Larry started weeping.
Even von Hausen was shaken by the suddenness and the viciousness of the attack. He sat on a rock and willed himself to be calm.
Gunter slipped and slid and stumbled down the bank toward Maria. Halfway there he lost his footing and rolled the rest of the way, landing on his ass in the cold waters of the creek.
Gunter said a few very vulgar words.
“Assemble,” von Hausen said. “Let’s see how much damage was done.”
“One dead, one dyin’, and two wounded,” John T. told him.
“I don’t wanna die!” Kelly screamed.
“You shoulda thought of that ’fore you signed on,” Utah told him. “That’s the problem with you young squirts. You don’t consider that a bullet might have your name on it.”
“Go to hell!” Kelly yelled at him.
“I’ll be right behind you, boy,” the older gun-for-hire told him.
The cook, Walt, was walking around gathering up what supplies he could find and muttering to himself. An old gunfighter who had given it up years back, Walt no longer carried a gun on him.
“What the hell are you mumbling about?” Hans asked the man.
“You told me this was a huntin’ trip,” Walt snapped at him. “You didn’t tell me ’til we was five hundred miles gone that it was a
“You find that repugnant?” von Hausen asked from his seat on the rock.
“I don’t know what that means,” Walt replied, a sack of flour in his hands. “But I think you’re all about half nuts—or better—chasin’ after Smoke Jensen. Ifn you’d asked me from the start I woulda told you Jensen is pure poison. You’d be better off stickin’ your arm in a sackful of rattlers.”
“Keep your opinions to yourself,” Gunter panted the words, as he shoved Maria over the top of the bank. “Just cook.”
“I’ll do that,” Walt said. He tossed the sack of flour to Gil Webb.
“What the hell do you want me to do with this?” Gil asked.
Walt suggested a couple of things.
Smoke left the trail and headed west, between Jenny Lake and Leigh Lake. Miles behind him, Larry Kelly and the man from Nevada were buried in shallow graves, the mounds covered with rocks to keep the scavengers from digging up and eating the bodies.
“Suggestions?” von Hausen said to John T.
“We ain’t got nothin’ to use as leverage to make him come to us,” John T. said. “If you wanna go on, all we can do is keep chasin’ him.”