“Mister, Smoke Jensen ain’t got no weak spots. He’s about two hundred and thirty pounds of pure poison when he’s riled up. Got arms on him ‘bout the size of an average man’s upper leg. He fist-fought men that stood six, eight and outweighed him seventy-five-eighty pounds and stomped them into a bloody pulp. He’ll fight you with guns, knives, or fists or clubs. It don’t make a damn to Smoke Jensen. He’s a man that don’t bother nobody ’til you start messin’ with him. Then he’s gonna come at you lookin’ like nine kinds of Hell. He was raised by mountain men during the day and suckled in the den by she-wolves at night. Don’t never sell Smoke Jensen short.”
“What an intriguing description,” Marlene said, stepping closer to the fire. “You make him sound like something out of mythology.”
“I don’t know what that means, your ladyship,” John T. Matthey said.
“Well, let me put it like this,” Marlene said. “You make it sound as though this Smoke Jensen person cannot be killed.”
“Oh, he can be killed, ma‘am. He’s a human bein’. But I know for a fact that he’s been shot a half a dozen times with rifles and pistols and just kept on comin’. That ain’t hearsay, ma’am. That’s fact.”
Marlene clapped her expensively gloved hands together. “Oh, I just love it, Frederick! This is going to be such an exciting hunt.”
“Quite, my dear,” von Hausen said. “Come, let’s have some breakfast.”
Lute had pulled out shortly after Smoke had told him to go on about his business. He wasn’t going to ambush the crowd supposedly chasing him-not yet, anyway-they’ d have to open fire on him. But he was going to try to lose them.
“I’ll be around, boy,” the old man had told him. “You might need some help further on up the trail.”
“I’m going up north to buy bulls, Lute.”
Lute grinned; what few teeth he had left were tobacco stained. “Shore you are, boy. I believe that. But them down yonder just might put a kink in your plans. See you, Smoke.”
Smoke broke camp and headed north toward the Green. He smiled as he settled into the saddle. These folks wanted to see some country. He’d show them some country. He decided to leave his friend up in Central Wyoming out of this.
Lute had told him that von Hausen had been on his trail for over a month, able to move much faster because of the trains. He had so much wealth that if the train was full, he’d just order up several more cars and hook on.
Smoke thought about that as he rode. Rock Springs was on the Union Pacific’s transcontinental line. He wondered if von Hausen would have supplies waiting for him there? Smoke bet he would. Either there or at the town of Green River just to the west of Rock Springs. Smoke’s smile toughened as he changed direction, heading southwest, into very tough country. He’d lose them in that area and then head for the little settlement he thought was still there at the old Fort Bridger site-if the Mormons hadn’t burned it down again like they burned it and Fort Supply back in ‘57 or ’58 during the Mormon War.
He lost the party trailing him by setting a grueling pace, once he discovered they had several women with them, all riding side-saddle. Smoke couldn’t imagine the mentality of any woman who would have anything to do with something this foolish and bloodthirsty.
“He’s got to be headin’ toward Fort Bridger,” Montana Jess told von Hausen.
“The terrain?” the German asked impatiently.
“It ain’t high country, but it’s rough country. And the army’s still got a garrison there.”
“They most certainly do not!” Hans said. “It was abandoned several years ago. I have information to that effect.”
Montana shifted his chew and spat, looking at the man. “Your information is wrong. And here’s something else: you call me a liar again, Brodermann, and I’ll kill you!”
Gunter stepped between the gunfighter and the prince. Hans really was a prince from some German family who had more princes and princesses than they knew what to do with. “We are not accustomed to your ways and methods in the wild west, Mister Jess. Be patient with us.”
Montana nodded his head. “Yeah,” he said, then walked away.
Hans said, “I’ll have to give that fellow a good thrashing before this expedition is through.”
“He is certainly deserving of one,” Hans’ wife, Andrea said.
“And he smells bad, too,” Marlene pointed out.
“The fort was reopened a couple of years back,” John T. told them. “What about the supplies up in Green River?”
“We can always resupply,” Frederick said. “Let’s pick up this man’s trail and press on.”
“What if he tells the army about us?” Marlene asked. “That man that our scout saw riding away from Smoke’s camp the other morning might have told him about us?”
“It’s possible,” von Hausen admitted. “But we have done no wrong. Besides, all of us are in this country under diplomatic papers. We have immunity from any type of prosecution.”
“Has that been tested in the wild west?” Gunter asked.
“You’re forgetting I was trained in international law. It’s been law in the United States since 1790,” von Hausen replied. “Mount up.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” the commanding officer at Fort Bridger said, adding with a smile, “I think. Have you eaten?”
“No. I’ve been pushing hard getting here.”
“More than my share of it, I’m afraid.”
“We’ll discuss it over some food. Perhaps I can help.”
“Von Hausen,” the Colonel said, after the meal was over and they had settled back over coffee and cigars. “Damn little I can do-even if this rather ... bizarre story is true. Not that I’m doubting your word, Mister Jensen,” he was very quick to add. “But have the people following you actually done anything?”
“Not one hostile move, Colonel.”
The colonel leaned forward. “Von Hausen is not an unknown name in Washington, Smoke. The von Hausen family have long been in diplomatic service. I’m sure the younger von Hausen is protected under international law.”
“You want to explain that to me?”
The colonel spoke for several minutes. When he finished, Smoke sat his chair and stared at him.
“Do you mean that somebody protected under this dumb law can cold bloodedly kill anybody they like and there isn’t a damn thing any lawman can do to them?”
“They can be expelled from the country.”
Smoke shook his head in disbelief.
“But it works both ways, Smoke. The same law protects our diplomats in their country.”
“That doesn’t give a whole lot of comfort to a man in the grave, now, does it?”
The colonel smiled. “No. I’m afraid it doesn’t. What will you do, Smoke?”
“Keep on traveling north. They’ll get to see some wild country if they hang on my tracks.”
“I remember you from fifteen years ago, Smoke. When you were no more than a boy who was quick with a gun. You would have handled this quite differently back then.”
“I hope I never have to pull a gun in anger again, Colonel. But I’ll only be pushed so far. No man will talk down to me, and no man will threaten the life of my wife or children, or me, and expect to live. And I don’t give one tinker’s damn about this so-called diplomatic immunity.”
“Just between you and me, Smoke, this Frederick von Hausen has been expelled from several countries and told not to come back. He calls himself an international sportsman—as some have taken to using the word—but he’s no sportsman. He’s a cold-blooded killer. You haven’t said anything about those with him, but I expect they’re pretty much of the same caliber he is. Male and female. Did this old man tell you any of the names of those riding with von Hausen?”
“He knew some of them. J. T. Matthey, Tom Ritter, Utah Red, Cat Brown.”
The colonel shook his head. “Bad ones. I’ve heard of them all. Guns for hire. After hearing those names I have to conclude that the old man just might be right. Von Hausen is certainly up to something.”
“He had to have planned this, Colonel. This isn’t something von Hausen just came up with on the spur of the moment. And if that is the case, he’s studied me.”
“I would think so. Yes.”
“So he can make a sport of tracking me down, hunting me, cornering me, and then killing me like some wild beast.”
Smoke smiled, but the colonel noticed very quickly that it was not a pleasant curving of the lips. The colonel sat silently, waiting.
“I’m going to give this baron or count or whatever he is a chance to break off this hunt, Colonel. I might even take a few shots in my direction-providing they don’t come too close. I’m going to do this because I’m tired of all the blood-letting. I’m going to let these people see some country, and some mighty rugged country too. But when I’ve had enough, I’ll stand and fight. And when I decide to do that, Colonel, I won’t be taking any prisoners for trial.”
“You’re telling me that you are going to commit murder,” the colonel said stiffly.
“Call it anything you like. I’m a man who set out to visit a friend and fellow rancher to buy some bulls. That’s all. Then I find myself being dogged by some European aristocrat and his friends who have hired about twenty-five of the most mangy bunch of men who ever sat a saddle. I am warned that this bunch plans to make a sport out of tracking and hunting and cornering and then killing me. I go to the army for help. The army tells me there is nothing that can be done because of some law that I never even heard of. Put yourself in my place, Colonel.”
The army officer sat for a moment without speaking. He toyed with his coffee cup, then said, “Off the record, Smoke?”
The colonel’s eyes were bleak as he said, “When it comes time for you to make your stand, don’t just wound anybody.”
Smoke resupplied at the fort and pulled out early the next morning, telling the boys at the livery he was heading for a little town just north of the mouth of Hams Fork. He left the post and headed straight north, riding north until he came to Muddy Creek. He rode in the river bed for several miles, then left it and headed northwest, toward the Bear River Divide.
This was a land not for the faint-hearted, even in the early 1880’s. Between Fort Bridger and north to Trapper’s Point, as the mountain men used to call it, there were no towns and few settlers. The northern branch of Muddy Creek forked almost in the center of Bear River Divide. When Smoke reached the southernmost branch of the fork, with Medicine Butte far to the south of him, he made a lonely camp, cooked his supper, then carefully hid all traces of his fire and rode north for several more miles before making his night camp amid a jumble of rocks that gave him a good lookout and a secure site.
He was on the trail before dawn, picking his way north, utilizing all of his skills in making his way, leaving as few tracks as possible.
He tried to put himself inside the head of von Hausen. What would he do in a situation like this? For one thing he would not accept that his prey had gone north toward Hams Creek as Smoke had told the boys at the stable; that would be a deliberate ruse. Von Hausen had some good trackers with him. The gunslingers might be no more than human trash, with little values and no morals, but some of them could track a snake across a rock. Von Hausen had enough salty ol’ boys with him to split his forces. Yeah. He’d do that. He’d send men racing toward the north, then start working them south, from the old stage road at Hams Fork over to the Utah line.
“Good, Smoke,” he muttered. “Very good move on your part. Now you’ve got people coming at you from two directions. Preacher would not be happy with this move.”
Then he chuckled and turned his horse’s head due east. When he came to the stagecoach road, he turned north and headed for what was called the Sublette Cutoff. The cutoff was developed as part of the Oregon Trail; a faster way to get to Oregon country.
As Smoke approached the little town at the cutoff, he circled and came around from the east. He stabled his horses at the livery and stood for a moment in the darkness of the huge barn, studying the horses at the hitchrail in front of the saloon.
“Those two horses over yonder,” he asked the boy. “They local brands?”
“Naw,” the lad replied. “They come in this mornin’. From the south. Hardcases, they look to me. Askin’ questions about any strangers in town. You look familiar, mister. Are you famous, or something?”
Smoke smiled. “In a way that I did not choose,” he told the boy, then gave him a silver dollar. “That’s for you. Rub my horses down good and give them grain. Watch that Appaloosa; he’ll kick the snot out of you if you aggravate him.”
“I seen you on the cover of a book!” the boy said. “You’re Smoke Jensen, the gunfighter. Jeepers! Smoke Jensen is standin’ right here in front of me!”
“I’m Jensen. Does that little cafe over there serve up good meals?”
“Yes, sir. It’s the best place in town to eat.” He thought about that. “It’s the only place in town to eat.”