As he neared the far ridges, Smoke slowed his approach. He slipped from tree to tree, his carefully-placed feet making no noise when they touched the earth.
He stopped, still as a sturdy tree when he heard the first whisper of voices filtering through the lushness of untouched forest. He worked his way closer, moving only when someone was speaking. Von Hausen and party had stopped in a small clearing, well hidden from the eyes of those back at the fort.
Smoke counted those in the clearing. Six were missing. And he’d bet those six were the top guns in the bunch. So be it. He would deal with them later.
“How long you reckon it’ll take the boys to get into position back yonder?” The question, or at least a part of it, reached Smoke.
He worked a few yards closer.
“Give ’em a good two hours,” his question was answered.
“I don’t ’spect Jensen and them will stick their noses out of the fort for several hours,” another said. “Maybe longer than that.”
“This is wrong!” a very accented voice reached Smoke. The words were almost a shout. “The man gave his word and we gave ours. What we are doing now is despicable!”
“Oh, stop your whining, Hans,” a woman said. “I’m sick of it. We all are.”
“This is a good plan,” a man said. The words were just audible to Smoke.
So von Hausen and his immediate party were some distance away from the hired help. Figures, Smoke thought. Heaven forbid they should have to associate with the lower classes.
Smoke moved closer. He was very near the edge of the clearing now. He thumb-nailed a match into flames.
“Shut your goddamn mouth, Hans!” von Hausen said. “We’re all tired of your silly whimpering. Now sit down over there and be quiet. Give us all a break. Those people back at that fort have to die. All of them. That’s final, and it’s settled.”
Smoke stepped to the edge of the clearing, lit the fuse on a charge of dynamite and tossed it into the center of the men, sitting and squatting in a circle.
“Jesus H. Christ!” one bellowed.
“Run!” another squalled, and took off like his long handles was on fire and he was in them.
Smoke laughed, threw back his head, and howled like a great gray timber wolf.
“What in the hell is that?” Marlene screamed.
Three sticks of dynamite blew. One man had been nodding off and was slow to move. The blast and concussion lifted him off the ground and moved him about thirty feet, one of his legs bent in an impossible angle.
Smoke started shooting, working the lever on his .44 carbine as fast as he could. Nick took a round in the belly that doubled him over. He fell to the shattered ground, screaming as the pain rode him down like a surging tidal wave.
Tom Ritter reached his frightened and rearing horse, got into the saddle, and Smoke put a slug in his shoulder as he was galloping off. He jerked in the saddle but stayed on.
Mike Hunt got to his boots, both hands filled with six-guns. Smoke shot him in the center of the chest just as Pat Gilman started throwing lead in Smoke’s direction. Smoke dropped to his knees at the edge of the clearing and pulled the trigger. The slug was low and caught Pat in the hipbone, knocking him down. Pat hollered and began crawling for a horse, any horse.
Smoke dropped his carbine and jerked his six-guns. Tony Addison screamed obscenities at him and leveled his guns. Smoke sent him to hell carrying two .44 slugs, one in his belly, the other one in his chest.
Smoke stepped back into the brush and squatted down. He could hear hard-running horses, the sounds of their hooves rapidly fading away. The little meadow was filled with flowers and gunsmoke and blood and death.
Smoke waited for several minutes, waiting for the dust to settle. He could see one man moving. He took that time to reload his carbine. He stood up, still in the timber and brush at meadow’s edge, and surveyed the scene. He was startled to see the wounded man was dressed like he was on an African safari. His stupid looking hat—what were they called, yeah, pith helmets—lay off to one side.
Smoke checked the dead. Two of them. Even the one who appeared to have a broken leg got away. But Smoke knew he’d put several out of action.
He walked over to the wounded man. The blood was dark as it oozed from his wound. Probably shot in the gizzard.
“I didn’t shoot you,” Smoke said. “A .44 round would have made a bigger hole than that.”
“My ... wife shot me. Andrea Brodermann.”
shot you?” Smoke knelt down beside the man.
“Yes. I’m ... going to die, aren’t I?”
“Probably. Looks like she drilled you through the liver. Small caliber pistol. Those small slugs tend to wander around in a person’s innards; do all sorts of damage.”
“You’re Smoke Jensen?”
“That I am.”
“Please accept my ... apologies for this ... insanity. Long days back I ... tried to stop this. They would ... have none of it.” He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth against the pain. He sighed and said, “She shot me ... just as the dynamite blew. I should have been ... more careful.”
Smoke started to tell him that when you run with hyenas, you shouldn’t expect to get the best cuts of meat, but he decided against that. Man had enough troubles right now.
“I am a Prince,” Hans said.
“Yes. The men left ... alive. They will not give up, sir. They ... have money deposited for them ... and they will hunt you ... down.”
“Well, I shortened the odds some this day.” Hans’ face was deadly white. Smoke figured the man didn’t have much longer. “You got family you want me to write, Prince?” He did not slur the title.
“In my wallet. My jacket ... pocket. Inside. If you would be ... so kind as to write my parents.”
“Sure. I’ll do it. You have my word.”
Hans tried a smile. “With that tremendous dynamite ... charge, you shouldn’t have much of a ... hole to dig.”
Smoke returned the smile and wiped the sweat from the man’s brow with a bandana. “I’ll bury you better than that, partner. That’s a promise.”
“Be careful of the ... women in our,” he grimaced,
group. They are vicious, sir. I think we have married too closely ... over the years. It’s beginning to ... show.”
Smoke said nothing. The man’s time was running out. Let him talk until he shook hands with the devil.
“I have a considerable sum of greenbacks in ... my wallet and ... several small sacks of ... gold coin in my saddlebags. That’s my horse ... over there. The ... there is no word for it in my language.” He cut his eyes. The horse was grazing not far away.
“Roan,” Smoke said.
“Yes. That is it. I want to compensate you for all the misery we have caused you ...”
“There is no need for that.”
“I want to.”
“Take it ... now. Let me see you do it. Please. A final request.”
Smoke walked to the horse, spoke to it, and opened the saddlebags, all the time keeping an eye on Hans. He took out three small but heavy leather sacks of gold coin. When he returned to Hans, the man was holding out a wallet.
“It will not make up for what ... we have done to you and the others. But it is a step. I did not fire upon the soldiers.”
Smoke believed him. He took the wallet.
“I told ... Frederick last night it was a stupid plan. That you would ... not fall for it. He slapped me. My wife ... laughed. They are perverted people. Twisted. I...”
Prince Hans Brodermann died surrounded by the magnificence of Yellowstone. Smoke reached out and closed his eyes. He found a shovel on one of the pack horses that had wandered back into camp and dug a deep hole. The earth claimed Prince Brodermann just as it eventually claims all, making no distinction of class.
Smoke piled rocks on the grave, picked up his rifle and gathered up a saddled horse and the two remaining pack horses. He rode slowly back to the rear entrance of the fort.
He told what happened while the others were going through the supplies.
“My God!” Blanche said. “Champagne and caviar.”
“I’d let it settle down some before I popped that cork,” Gilbert said. “The bouncing it’s taken, that stuff would go off like a shot.”
“What did you do with the other dead?” Thomas asked.
“Left them for the varmints,” Smoke said shortly. “Any activity out front after the fireworks started?”
“Yep,” Walt said. “They was men out there just like you suspected. But I don’t think they ever got in place. They pulled out. Angel climbed up yonder,” he pointed to a ledge off a-ways from the falls, “where the rocks wasn’t so wet he couldn’t get a hand-hold, and seen ‘em leave. Then we used field glasses and seen ’em way over yonder ridin’ hard.” He pointed. “They musta picketed their horses and walked in the last mile or so.”
“Pack it up,” Smoke said. “Now. And do it fast. We’re pulling out of here.”
“But ...” Carol said.
“No buts, lady. We’re moving. Now.”
“Yes,” Gilbert said. “I see the logic in that. Our horses are well-rested. We have regained our spirits and strength. So while the opposition is running chaotically, in total disarray, we make our final dash to freedom.”
Smoke smiled. “Took the words right out of my mouth, Gilbert.”
The final ride to park headquarters was uneventful. The acting park superintendent had already sent a messenger to the Army, advising them of the missing patrol, and a full mounted platoon was only a day away and riding hard.
The ladies immediately went off for a hot bath and a change of clothing. The small garrison of Army Engineers went on full alert. All six of them.
“They won’t come here,” Smoke calmed the acting superintendent down. “Once they see we made it, they’d be riding into a death trap, knowing we got word out. But let the Army stay on alert. It’ll be good for them.”
“Well, the law will now take care of this von Hausen and those hooligans with him.”
“No, sir, they won’t.”
“I beg your pardon, Mister Jensen?”
“I will,” Smoke said flatly.
The man took one look into Smoke’s hard eyes and backed up a step. “Yes, sir. I do believe you will.”
Smoke had told no one about Hans Brodermann’s money. That evening, after supper, he took Angel and Walt aside and told them. He gave them the money.
“My God, Smoke,” Walt said, after looking into the sacks and the wallet and finding his voice. “There must be four or five thousand dollars in here.”
“Probably more than that,” Smoke said. “There’s two thousand dollars in greenbacks and several thousand more in signed checks on Wells Fargo. That’s not counting the gold. Why don’t you two buy you a little spread somewhere and settle down?”
“That’s a good idea,” Angel said, looking at Walt. “How about it ... partner?”
The three men shook hands.
“Keep in touch,” Smoke told them. “I’ll be pulling out at first light.”
“You want some company?” Walt asked.
“No. This is something I have to do myself. You both understand that.”
When the others awakened the next morning, Smoke had already left. When questioned, not even the Army guard on the last duty watch had heard him leave.
“He’s going to track them all down, isn’t he?” Gilbert asked.
“Yep,” Walt said. “To the last person. They could have pulled out. Smoke gave them that option. But they turned their backs to it. And they messed up real bad when they done it. They made Smoke mad.”
“That is quite a man,” Carol said.
Walt glanced at her. “All man, lady. Some say he’s the last mountain man.”
“The lard’s done hit the hot skillet now,” Montana said, lingering over the last of the morning coffee. “And she’s a-bubblin’ and a-spittin’.”
“He is just one man,” Valdes said.
“I used to think you had good sense,” Montana replied. “Now I’m beginnin’ to think you fell off your hoss and landed on your head one too many times. He’s acomin’ after us, Valdes. And he’s mad clear through. And when he’s mad, and knows he’s in the right, Smoke Jensen don’t give a damn about the law. They’s been a dozen times over the years when more men than us tried to stop him. When the gunsmoke cleared, Jensen was still standin’.”
“I think I am in the company of old women,” Valdes said scornfully.
John T. Matthey smoothed out the saddle blanket, slung his saddle on and cinched it up. He said nothing. But he felt that Valdes’ pride was setting the Mexican gunfighter up for a killing. His own.
It had been four days since the fight at the fort on the ridge, and the men had swung wide and then cut east. Dodge City, Kansas, where their money was being held, was a long way off. And those of them with any sense knew that Smoke Jensen was coming hard after them.