“Fine. I want me a meal, a bath and a shave, and I can’t do any of that until I get those two gunhands over there in the saloon off my back.”
“Is there gonna be a shoot-out?” the boy asked excitedly.
“I hope not. But there might be a pretty good fist-fight in a few minutes. Is there a back door to that saloon?”
“Yes, sir. You can duck around the side of this barn and come up from the north. That’s a blind side.”
“Fine. Now you keep still about me being in town for a few minutes. Then you can tell your friends. All right?”
“Anything you say, sir. Yes, sir.”
“Where’s the marshal?”
“Out of town chasin’ a thief. Stole a horse and rode right through Mrs. MacKenney’s wash. Took her drawers slap off the line. She ain’t found ’em yet.”
Smoke laughed at that. “Is there a jail?”
“Right over yonder.” He pointed up the street. “Got four cells.”
“I’ll just need one. Do my horses right now, you hear?”
“Oh, yes, sir!”
Smoke stepped out the back of the livery and walked the alley to the edge of the small town. He crossed the street and cut back toward the saloon, taking the alley route. If his plan worked out, von Hausen was going to be plenty miffed. Smoke thought that might do the arrogant baron some good. Or count, or whatever he was. Smoke had a pretty good idea what he was, but that wasn’t printable.
Smoke found the rear door to the saloon-easily done because of the mound of broken whiskey bottles and beer kegs-and slipped inside. He made his way through the gloom and peeked through a hole in the wall. He could tell the regular patrons because they were staying well away from the two trail-dusty, sweat-stained and unshaven men standing at the bar.
Smoke opened the door and stepped inside the barroom. He walked up to the bar and told the barkeep, “Beer.”
Lou Kennedy and Pride Anderson glanced at each other. Both of them wore very startled looks on their ugly faces.
The mug of beer was placed in front of Smoke and he took a sip. Bootsteps sounded on the short boardwalk in front of the saloon. A young man hurried inside, sat down at a table, and whispered something to the men seated there. The men all took a quick glance at Smoke, their eyes wide.
The barkeep waddled over to the table and listened. He looked at Smoke and at the two men standing at the bar. “Bar’s closed,” he announced, and sat down at the table.
Smoke dropped his right hand down to the butt of his gun. “Before I kill a man, or in this case, two men, I like to know their names.”
“Oh, Lord!” a farmer-type said. “Somebody call the law!”
“Shut up,” a cowboy seated across the room said. “Remember me, Mister Smoke?” he asked. “I rode for you down on the Sugarloaf two, three years ago. Dusty Hill.”
“Dusty. Sure. But you stay out of this. They got any friends in town?”
“I don’t think so. I’ll watch your back, Mr. Smoke.”
“Good enough.” Smoke moved closer to the pair of gunslingers.
“I’m Pride Anderson and this here’s Lou Kennedy. And we ain’t huntin’ no trouble, Jensen.”
“Then why have you and the rest of that pack of rabid coyotes been crowdin’ me for the past week?” He moved still closer.
“It’s a free country, Smoke,” Lou said. “A man can ride where he damn well pleases.”
Smoke stepped well within swinging range. “A man can get hurt crowdin’ another man. But I’m not going to hurt either one of you-very much.” Smoke hit Lou smack in the mouth with a big fist. As Lou was stumbling across the room, Smoke jerked Pride’s gunbelt down, the rig falling around his ankles. A split second later, Smoke had busted him square on the nose. Pride hollered as the blood and snot flew as he fell down, all tangled up in his gunbelt.
Smoke met Lou coming at him and hit him a left and right that glazed Lou’s eyes and further bloodied his mouth. Smoke turned and hit Pride twice in the belly just as he was getting up, the blows sounding like a man hitting a watermelon with the flat side of an axe. Smoke caught a blow to the side of his head that probably hurt Lou’s hand more than it did Smoke’s noggin. But it did sting. Smoke waded in, both fists swinging and connecting, the blow driving the man to his knees. Smoke turned and Pride hit him, bloodying his mouth. Smoke back-heeled him and sent the man crashing to the floor. Smoke stepped forward and grabbing the gunfighter by the back of the head, he brought a knee up into the man’s face and Pride stretched out on the floor, his mouth a mess and his nose flattened.
Smoke turned just as Lou was getting up. He measured his blow and put one hard right fist onto the side of Lou’s jaw. Lou’s eyes rolled back while he was falling, until only the whites were showing. He hit the floor, out cold.
Smoke walked back to the bar and drank his beer down. He turned to face the crowd. “These two are part of a gang that’s been hunting me ... for sport. I should have killed them both. But maybe this way is better. Maybe when the others come into town, the sight of these two will change some minds. Dusty, will you and some of these other good citizens drag these two over to the jail, lock them down, and bring the key to me?”
“We’ll shore do it,” Dusty said.
“I’ll be registering at the hotel and then I’ll be having me a bath and a shave.”
“I’ll find you,” Dusty said.
Smoke walked out the front door.
“Shoot!” one citizen said. “I was wantin’ to see a good gunfight.”
“If there had of been,” Dusty said, grabbing hold of Lou’s ankles, “if you’d blinked you’d a missed it.”
Smoke took the key to the cell holding Lou and Pride and dropped it down an old unused well. He had registered at the hotel and after disposing of the cell key, he walked to the barber shop and told the man to get some hot water ready for a bath. After his bath, he had himself a shave and a haircut. Then he went to the cafe for something to eat.
Smoke was eating roast beef and boiled potatoes and gravy when the marshal walked in, all dusty and tired-looking. The marshal paused in the door, gave the crowded cafe a once-over, spotted him, walked to the table, and sat down.
“Coffee, Pat,” he called to the waiter. “And a plate of food. I’m so hungry I could eat a skunk.” He cut his eyes. “You got to be Smoke Jensen.”
“Did you put those two beat-up lookin’ characters into my jail?”
Smoke chewed for a moment. “Nope.”
The marshal waited for a moment. “Well, if it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, would you mind telling me who did?”
“Some of your citizens. At my request.”
“Both of them yahoos wants a doctor.”
“I imagine they do. They were both in fairly poor condition the last time I saw them.”
The marshal looked at him. “One of them tagged you at least one good lick.”
“Yes, he did. The waiter said they had apple pie. Is it any good?”
“It’s very good. I have it every day. It’s the only kind of pie the damn cook knows how to bake. Mister Jensen, what the hell do you want me to do with those two gunslingers in my jail?” He lifted his coffee cup, blew, and took a sip.
“I imagine you’ll be keeping them for awhile. I threw away the cell key.”
The marshal choked on his coffee. “Damnit, man. I only had the one key for that cell.”
“I know.” Smoke smiled at him. “Don’t worry. The man who’ll be coming to get them has plenty of money. He’ll pay for rebricking the rear wall, after you have someone jerk it out to set them loose.”
Smoke was miles north of the settlement when Frederick von Hausen and his party arrived, looking for the two missing members. The German was not amused at what he found.
“I demand that you release those men immediately!” he told the marshal.
“I ain’t got no charges against either of them,” the marshal replied.
“Well ... turn them loose!”
“I surely wish I could. They’re eating the town’s treasury outta money. Never seen two men who could eat that much.”
“You are straining my patience,” von Hausen told the man. “First you tell me there are no charges against either man, then you tell me that you cannot free them. This is all very confusing.”
“I can’t open the damn door,” the marshal said. “Smoke Jensen threw away the only key.”
Von Hausen cussed.
The marshal waited until the German had stopped swearing. “He said you probably wouldn’t see the humor in it.”
“Get us outta here!” Lou hollered.
“Where is the nearest locksmith?” von Hausen asked, getting a grip on his temper.
“Lord, I don’t know,” the marshal said, scratching his head. “Denver, I reckon.”
“My good man,” Hans stepped in. “We must free these men. It is an injustice to keep them locked up when they have done no wrong.”
The marshal looked at him. “You got any ideas?”
“We could get some dynamite and blow the wall,” John T. suggested.
“The hell you will!” Pride bellowed.
While the manhunters were arguing among themselves, the marshal opened a drawer of his desk and pulled out a pile of old wanted posters. Several of the gunslingers hit the saddle and left town.
“Just as well. Didn’t want to fool with them anyway,” the marshal muttered.
Smoke was a good twenty miles north of the town, camped along the banks of Fontenelle Creek, drinking coffee and cooking his supper before a team of mules was found and a chain hooked to the bars of the cell.
Frederick von Hausen had to count out the money for jail repairs and put it in the marshal’s hand before the townspeople would allow the wall to be pulled down.
“Now will you release my men?” the German asked.
“Take it down,” the marshal said.
The big Missouri Reds strained but the wall would not budge.
“Damnit, do something!” von Hausen yelled.
“You wanna get out there and get in harness with them mules?” the marshal asked him.
“You are a very impudent fellow,” von Hausen told him.
“And you’re beginnin’ to annoy me,” the marshal replied. “And when I get annoyed, I tend to get testy. The second best thing you could do is shut your mouth. The first best thing you could do is go back to wherever the hell it is you come from.”
“Pull, babies!” the mule’s owner yelled and the wall finally came down in a cloud of dust.
Lou and Pride staggered out, both of them looking as though they had picked a fight with a tornado.
They told their stories to an incredulous von Hausen.
“He whipped both of you?” the German said.
“Incredible,” Gunter said.
“I warned you about Jensen,” John T. reminded them.
While the back of the jail was being demolished, the ladies in the group had been enjoying hot baths and the boys in the town had been enjoying them a whole lot more by peeking through holes in the fence back of the barber shop.
By the time the men had been released, it was late in the day and pointless to continue. Von Hausen and his party stayed at the small hotel while the gunslingers slept wherever they could.
When the morning dawned and the European community and their scummy entourage finally got underway, Smoke was riding along the Fontenelle, with Commissary Ridge to the west.
He’d had his fun, and now the game would turn serious, he guessed. He had insulted his majesty and his lordship, and the prince and their ladies, and the Germans would not take it lightly.
But Smoke was still not going to start tossing lead at this point. He just could not accept that this was going to turn lethal. He just couldn’t. Those following him were going to have to show that they really intended to kill him before he turned and made his stand.
He hoped von Hausen would call it off.
Deep inside him, he knew the German would not.
“He’s stopped tryin’ to hide his trail,” Gil Webb said. “That makes me wonder what he’s up to.”
Nat Reed nodded his head in agreement. He took off his hat and ran his fingers through his shaggy hair. “What you gonna do with all the money them crazy people is payin’ us, Gil?”
“Spend it on women and booze,” the man-hunter said simply and honestly.
They were waiting for the main party to catch up, taking a few minutes to rest.
“That’s a lot of damn money to spend on women and whiskey.”
“So what are you gonna do with your pay?”
Nat grinned. “Spend it on women and whiskey.”
The men laughed.
“You ever been up in this part of the country, Nat?”