Dorman, using a sturdy branch for a crutch, hobbled over to the men’s bedrolls and found clothing for them.
“And tell them not to put on those stinking pile of rags until they wash them, too,” Andrea screamed.
“Yes’um,” Dorman said.
“And it wouldn’t hurt you to take a bath, either,” Marlene squalled at him.
“Yes‘um,” Dorman said, thinking for the umpteenth time that day that if he could find his horse he’d leave this crazy bunch ’fore Jensen kilt them all. Never again would he be so stupid as to tie up with anybody who wanted to hunt down Smoke Jensen.
Von Hausen and Gunter rode in and looked at the men, bathing in the river.
“Jensen kilt Frank Clover and took our clothes,” Elliot said. “We had to walk back.”
Von Hausen had a dozen questions to ask about that. But he only shook his head and walked his weary horse over to the picket line. Marlene met him.
“Any luck?” she asked.
“We couldn’t even find his trail,” von Hausen admitted. “The man’s hid his horse somewhere and is on foot. And he’s not leaving any tracks.”
All the women were bruised and somewhat the worse for wear after their brief encounter with Smoke, and they were in no mood for excuses.
Marlene said, “We have hunted man-killers all over the world. We have always been successful. Tomorrow, we,” she waved at Andrea and Maria, “shall take to the field and show you big, brave men how to hunt.”
“Marlene,” von Hausen said, his temper barely under control, “as of this moment, I do not give a damn what you ladies do.”
Marlene tossed her head and stalked off, Maria and Andrea with her.
Von Hausen had to clench his fists in order not to give the backs of the ladies a very vulgar gesture.
Smoke shook his head when he spotted the women the next morning. They were riding without men. Smoke concluded they were either the dumbest females he had ever run into, or just so arrogant they did not realize the danger they were in. He decided on the latter. He flattened out and let them come on. His clothing blended with the earth and Smoke had the patience of an Apache. Ol’ Preacher had drilled into his head that many times movement gives away position more than noise.
Smoke did not want to hurt the women. A dunk in the river and a good shaking up was about the limit he was prepared to go with them, even though they were as vicious as any man he had ever encountered. What would he do if they started shooting at him? He didn’t know.
As they drew closer, Smoke thought again that this was not his favorite terrain for fighting. He liked the high mountains and deep timber. Where he was now was rocky and sparse. There were peaks here: Roughlock Peak was to his north, Deadman Butte lay to the west, but nothing to compare to the High Lonesome.
Andrea made up his mind.
The women reined up about ten feet from him and Andrea said, “This is a good spot. I’ll stay here. Marlene, you ride on about two hundred and fifty yards. Maria, you ride on an equal distance past Marlene. We’ve got rocks behind us and a good field of view in front of us. As long as we stay within shouting distance of each other, we’ll be fine.”
Maria and Marlene rode on. Andrea dismounted. The last thing she would remember for about an hour was something crashing into her jaw and the ground coming up to meet her.
“What the hell do you mean, she’s gone?” von Hausen roared.
“I mean she’s vanished,” Marlene screamed at him. “One minute she was there, the next minute she was gone. The tracks lead straight north.”
“Break camp,” von Hausen ordered. “Jensen’s got her.”
The men had found most of their horses and repaired the cinch straps. They quickly saddled up and broke camp. Dick Dorman could sit a saddle. But he had to have help dismounting. He gritted his teeth against the pain and rode. Joe Elliot’s left arm was in a sling, and he was hurting something awful, but he followed along, riding Frank’s horse. Searchers had found Terry’s horse and brought it to him.
Henry Barton was riding a pack horse that had the worst gait of any animal he had ever tried to ride. Sandy Beecher rode a mule that tried to bite him every time he mounted and tried to kick him every time he dismounted.
“You are the most despicable man I have ever met in all my life,” Andrea told Smoke. “This is outrageous. I have never been treated like this in my life. This is kidnapping. I will have you arrested.”
“Shut up,” Smoke told her.
He had tied her hands to the saddlehorn and was seriously considering wrapping a sack around her mouth.
“I suppose you intend to violate me,” Andrea said.
Smoke looked back at her. “You have to be kidding! I’d sooner bed down with a skunk.”
She spat at him. She wasn’t a very good spitter. With spit on her chin, she said, “You are certainly no gentleman. You are a brute and a boorish oaf.”
“Lady, shut up.”
She screamed so loud it hurt Smoke’s ears.
“Go right ahead and squall, lady. No one’s going to hear you. In case you’re interested in geography, that’s Roughlock Hill right over there.”
“I hate you, I despise you, I loathe you!”
“This is really going to be a fun trip. I can sense that right off.”
“Where are you taking me, you pig?”
“To the mountains, lady. I’m glad you had sense enough to bring a coat with you. You’re going to need it.”
“Why did you kidnap me?”
“So the others will follow.”
“I shall have you whipped to death, you barbarian.”
“If you attempt to violate me I shall give you no satisfaction.”
“You’re as safe with me as you would be in a nunnery.”
“Don’t you find me beautiful?”
“In the same way a rattlesnake is pretty.”
“These bonds are too tight. My hands hurt.”
“My ears hurt.”
She cussed him.
“You have a very dirty mouth, lady.”
“We’ll eat this evening.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
She cussed him.
“I’m not so sure this was such a good idea,” Smoke muttered.
On the third night out, Andrea finally got it through her head that Smoke was not going to violate her precious wonderful flawless perfect body. And that made her madder than the kidnapping.
The man was infuriating. He seemed to sleep with one eye open. She could not escape because Smoke tied a rope around her waist and the other end to his arm before they went to bed. Three times she’d tried to slip away. Three times Smoke had jerked her back to the ground so hard her eyes crossed, her teeth rattled, and her butt hurt from the impact.
While the fire burned down to coals, Andrea asked, “Why don’t you sleep with me tonight?”
“I’m married, lady.”
“She isn’t here.”
“Yes, she is. In my mind.”
“Is she beautiful?”
“She probably weighs three hundred pounds and has a head like a hog.”
Smoke laughed at her.
“You find me amusing?” she flared at him.
“I find you dangerous, Andrea. Vicious and unfeeling and very dangerous.”
“It was only a game, Mister Jensen,” she said softly.
“Lady, you people were going to kill me.”
“When this started, we thought of it as the ultimate hunt. You are depicted as a notorious gunfighter. A killer. We assumed there would be arrest warrants on you. That no one would care if you got killed. We ...”
“Stop it, Andrea. You’re lying. Stop lying. You found out about me before the hunt started. You could have stopped it before you left Dodge. And you killed that Army patrol. A cold-blooded ambush. So stop lying and making excuses for yourself and your lousy damn friends. And Andrea, I buried your husband. We talked at length before he died. You shot him with that little hide-out gun I took from you. And he didn’t die easy.”
She refused to meet his eyes. “If you turn me over to the police, I won’t be prosecuted.”
“I know that. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. But believe this, Andrea, if you believe nothing else: if you try to kill me, I’ll hurt you.”
“Big brave man, aren’t you?” she sneered the words at him.
“No. Just a man who is trying to survive. Now shut your mouth and go to sleep.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I’ll stuff a gag in your big mouth.”
She lay down and closed her eyes.
“He’s leadin’ us back into the mountains,” Roy Drum said. “Just as sure as hell that’s what he’s doin’.”
“And then? ...” Gunter asked wearily.
“He’ll start killin’ us,” John T. said, his voice flat. “That’s why he grabbed Andrea. So’s we’d follow him.”
“Heading back to the mountains,” von Hausen said, scratching his unshaven chin. “And he’ll make his final stand there, won’t he?”
“You better believe it,” Utah said. “Howlin’ and snarlin’ and spittin’ and scratchin’ and shootin’.” He looked back at the group. “If any of you boys feel you’re comin’ down with a case of the yeller belly, git gone now. ’Cause once we git up in the high lonesome, there ain’t gonna be no runnin’.”
No one left. They sat their saddles and stared at the man, defiance in their eyes.
“Don’t say you wasn’t warned,” John T. told them. “Let’s ride.”
Smoke rode through Powder River Pass and took a deep breath of the cool clear air. He smiled, smelling the fragrance of the high country; he was home. Halfway between there and Cloud Peak, he set up his first ambush point, after securing Andrea’s mouth so she could not scream and warn her blood-thirsty friends.
She tried to bite him and kick him, but he was expecting that and got her secured with only a small bruise on his shin.
“Now you be a sweet girl now,” he told her, after stepping out of kicking range.
She bugged her eyes and fought her bonds and tried to kick him again.
“Relax, Andrea. You’re making your bonds tighter.”
She soon realized he was right and ceased her frantic struggling. She fell back on the ground and glared hate at him.
“Hans was probably glad to die after being married to you,” Smoke muttered. He picked up his rifle and moved to a spot several miles away.
Smoke watched the long, single-file column come up the old trail, Roy Drum watching the ground, tracking Smoke like the expert he was. Roy passed within ten feet of Smoke.
Ed Clay was the last man in the column. When the rider in front of him had rounded the sharp bend in the trail—a place Smoke had deliberately chosen—Smoke leaped from the ledge and knocked Ed out of the saddle, clubbing him with a big fist on the way to the ground. He threw Ed across his shoulder, grabbed his rope from his saddlehorn, and slapped the horse on the rump, sending it back down the trail. Smoke slipped into the brush and climbed back up to the ledge.
There, he hog-tied Ed and gagged him with the hired gun’s own filthy bandana and picked up his rifle, slipping back into the brush, paralleling the trail.
“I sure will be glad to get shut of this damn mule, Ed,” Sandy said. “You wouldn’t like to trade off for a spell, would you?”
He got no reply as they rode further into the dimness of thick timber and brush.
“Did you hear me, Ed?” Sandy asked, twisting in the saddle.
Ed wasn’t there.
“We got trouble!” Sandy called. He looked up in time to see a stick of dynamite come sputtering out of the ridge above him. “Oh, hell!” he yelled.
The charge blew, the mule walled its eyes and bowed up, and Sandy’s butt left the saddle and he went flying through the air. He landed on the west side of the trail and went rolling down the slope, hollering and cussing all the way down. He landed in a creek and banged his head on a rock, knocking him silly.
Marlene’s horse reared up at the huge explosion and threw her off. She landed hard and immediately started bellering.
One Eye’s horse fell against the slope and Smoke took aim and conked One Eye on the noggin with a fist-sized rock. One Eye slid off the saddle, out cold.
Smoke added more confusion to the riders on the narrow trail by jerking out his left-hand six gun and emptying it in the air. Then he threw back his head and howled like a wolf and screamed like a panther. The horses went crazy.
Smoke found some good-sized throwing rocks and started pelting those below him. One cracked von Hausen’s pith helmet and knocked the Baron slap out of the saddle. He landed belly-down on the edge of the trail and about fifteen seconds later, he joined Sandy in the creek, sitting in the cold water, addled goofy by the blow to his head.