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Authors: William W. Johnstone,J. A. Johnstone

Tags: #Jensen; Smoke (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Westerns, #General

Shootout of the Mountain Man (8 page)

BOOK: Shootout of the Mountain Man
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Most of the people who knew Smoke now thought they knew everything there was to know about him. But there were very few of his current acquaintances who knew there had been a wife before Sally. Smoke loved Sally, there was no denying that, but had Nicole not been murdered, he would have never even met Sally. Most of the time the shadows of his past remained just that, shadows. It served no purpose to bring those memories to the surface, but this telegram had done that.

It was funny. He had just had a dream about Nicole, which was unusual in more ways than one. It was unusual because, though she still occupied a part of his heart, he had managed, quite successfully until the dream, to put her out of his mind. And it was unusual because, in a way, his dream of Nicole seemed to presage this telegram from her brother.

Was it just a coincidence? Or had the dream been a warning of what was to come? He knew that the Indians put great store in the power of dreams, and, for that matter, so did Preacher. He had always respected Preacher, and if Preacher felt that way about dreams, then he figured there might be something to it—but until this incident, he had never encountered the power of the “dream spirit.”

When Smoke arrived at his ranch, he saw Pearlie sitting at an outside table just under a spreading oak tree. There was a saddle on the table in front of his foreman, and Pearlie was doing some repair work. A peal of laughter rang out from over by the little cluster of houses, where the families of some of his Mexican workers lived, and Smoke smiled when he saw Cal chasing after the laughing children as he swung a lariat over his head. In many ways, Cal was still a kid himself.

Both Pearlie and Cal waved at him, and he returned their wave, then went into the big house.

“Hello, darling,” Sally said, greeting him with a big smile. “How did you do at horseshoes?”

“I won.”

“I never had any doubt. By the way, I’m making a chicken pot pie for supper tonight. We’ll call it a celebration of your winning at horseshoes. I hope you are hungry.”

“How soon can you have it ready?” Smoke asked.

Sally laughed. “My goodness, I guess you really are hungry.”

“No it’s not that,” Smoke said. “I have to catch a train tonight.”

Sally’s expression changed from one of a smile to one of curious concern. “Is something wrong?”

Smoke showed Sally the telegram. She read it, then looked up at him with a quizzical expression on her face. “You are going to Nevada?”

“Yes.”

“That’s a long way to go, isn’t it?”

“Darlin', if they were about to hang Bobby Lee in China, I would go see what I could do to help.”

“That brings up the next question. Who is Bobby Lee Cabot?”

“He is Nicole’s brother,” Smoke said.

Sally nodded. No further explanation was needed.

“I’ll hurry supper, then I’ll pack your things,” she said.

Although Pearlie and Cal frequently ate with the other cowboys, they were more like family than hired hands, so just as frequently they ate with Smoke and Sally. They especially did so on nights like tonight when Sally had gone out of her way to fix something special.

It was Pearlie who noticed it first—Smoke’s saddlebags, neatly packed, as well as his rifle and canteen, over by the wall.

“Are we going somewhere?” Pearlie asked, nodding toward the gear.

“We aren’t,” Smoke replied. “I am.”

“Wait a minute,” Cal said. “That ain’t right, Smoke. We always go as a team.”

“That isn’t right,” Sally suggested.

“See, even Sally agrees.”

“I was correcting your grammar.”

“Oh.”

“Cal, this is something personal,” Smoke said. “Very personal. It concerns something that happened before you, before Pearlie, even before Sally.”

“Well, yeah, but I mean—”

“You heard him Cal,” Pearlie said, interrupting the younger cowboy. “Some things are, like Smoke said, personal.”

Looking around, Cal saw the expressions on the other faces, and those expressions told him he was in the wrong.

“Oh, uh, yeah, I see what you mean,” Cal said. “I’m sorry, Smoke. You go on by yourself if you want to. You won’t hear nothin’ else from me.”

Sally drew a breath to correct his grammar yet again, but she left the words unspoken. She was not a schoolteacher anymore, and she had about decided that Cal was a lost cause anyway. Besides, he was obviously feeling rejected right now, so there was no need to add to his discomfort by more grammatical corrections.

Smoke smiled at Cal. “I’m glad I have your permission.”

“My permission? No, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, of course you can go anywhere you want. You don’t never need my permission a’tall.”

“Oh. Well, I’m glad to hear that.”

Smoke laughed, as did the others, at Cal’s reaction. Smoke reached out and ran his hand through Cal’s hair.

“I was teasing you, Cal,” he said. “Look, ordinarily I would want Sally, Pearlie, and you with me. But trust me, this isn’t a normal thing. Besides, you and Pearlie have that rodeo to go to, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, I nearly forgot that.”

“How can you nearly forget that?” Pearlie challenged. “We just been practicin’ for it for near a month now.”

“Well, I didn’t really nearly forget it, I just nearly forgot it is all,” Cal said, as if his explanation made any sense at all.

“Smoke has a train to catch tonight,” Sally said. “What do you say that any more conversation we have, we have while we are eating?”

Chapter Six

Sally, Pearlie, and Cal rode with Smoke into town. There, they stopped by the sheriff’s office to pick up the document Smoke had printed, then went on to the railroad station so they could see Smoke off on the train.

“If you would, Charley, book me only on trains that have an attached stock car. I plan to take my horse with me.”

“All right,” the stationmaster replied. He worked on the tickets for a few moments, then handed a packet of them to Smoke.

“You’ll leave here at eleven tonight,” Charley explained. “You will arrive in Colorado Springs at one in the morning, where you will change trains, then depart Colorado Springs at two a.m., arrive in Cheyenne, Wyoming, at eleven tomorrow morning. Because you will need a stock car, you won’t be able to depart Cheyenne until three o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Then comes the long ride, from Cheyenne to Battle Mountain, Nevada. You will reach Battle Mountain at eight a.m. the next day. I’m afraid you are going to have to spend the entire day in Battle Mountain, because you won’t leave until ten that evening. You’ll reach Cloverdale at eight o’clock on the following morning. It will be an all-night trip, but your passage should be quite comfortable, as the train is equipped with Pullman cars.”

“It’s good to see that you have it all worked out for me,” Smoke said.

“Oh, and Smoke, I don’t know how dependable the shipping people are at all these stations, so if I were you, I would keep an eye on your horse at each place.”

“Thanks, Charley, I intend to,” Smoke replied.

Tickets in hand, Smoke sat inside the depot with Sally and his two friends as they waited for the midnight special. It was called that, even though most of the time it was scheduled to arrive at about eleven.

“What kind of a fella is this Bobby Lee?” Cal asked.

“I’m not sure,” Smoke said. “He was not much more than a kid the last time I saw him, but he was as fine a kid as I’ve ever known. I’ve only heard from him once or twice since Nicole died. I think he rode shotgun on a stage for a while, and was a deputy somewhere up in Wyoming. I don’t know how he got to this place in Nevada, and I have no idea why they are about to hang him.”

“Do you think he is innocent?” Cal asked.

“I don’t know. But I don’t care whether he is innocent or not.”

“You mean, even if he was guilty, you would go try to rescue him?” Cal asked.

“I’m not going to
try
to do anything,” Smoke said. “I am going to do it.”

“Cal, quit asking such dumb questions,” Pearlie said. “You mind how when I was in jail that Smoke come to rescue me?”
3

“Yeah, but you hadn’t been convicted yet,” Cal replied.

“Do you think that would have mattered?”

“No,” Cal said. “I don’t reckon it would have mattered. Smoke would have rescued you, just like he’s going to try to rescue this fella Cabot.”

“I told you, there is no try about it,” Smoke said. “I’m going to do it.” He reached out to put his hand on Sally’s hand and looked deep into her eyes.

As Smoke gazed deeply at her, Sally could almost look back in time to see the Smoke she had not known, the Smoke that had come before.

“I know that you will,” Sally said.

They heard the whistle of the far off train.

“Sounds like the train is comin',” Cal said, stating the obvious.

Smoke had checked his rifle through with his saddle, but he kept his saddlebags with him, and he reached down to scoop them up.

“What do you say we go out onto the platform and watch that big beast roll in?” he suggested.

“All right,” Sally answered.

Smoke draped the saddlebags over his right shoulder, then put his left arm around Sally’s waist and pulled her closer. She leaned into him.

“You’ve got nothing to be jealous about, Sally,” Smoke said quietly.

“Oh, darling, I know that. I’m not in the least jealous,” Sally said. “I think the fact that you can still have such a feeling for Nicole even though she has been dead these many years is one of the reasons I love you so. It’s comforting in a way. It reassures me that if anything happened to me, you would still love me.”

“Forever,” Smoke said, squeezing her more tightly.

By the time they stepped out onto the platform, the train was already approaching the station with its big headlamp sending out a long beam of light ahead, catching hundreds of fluttering night insects in its glow. The exhaust valve was venting off the used steam so that huge puffy clouds of white swirled about the engine, reflecting in the platform lamplights so that they appeared to glow. The loud puffs echoed back from the sheer, red wall of Big Rock Cliff, just on the other side of the tracks. It was this cliff from which the town had taken its name. The bell clanged incessantly as the engine, a two-four-two, rolled up alongside them. The engine was so heavy that Smoke could feel the vibration in his stomach, and he saw small, burning embers dripping through the grates of the firebox and laying down a long, glowing trail to smolder between the tracks. The engineer was leaning on the sill of the cab window, eyes forward, with his hand on the brake valve.

Smoke heard the hiss of air as the brake cylinders were closed, followed by the squeal of iron on iron as the braking pads gradually clamped down on the wheels, bringing the train to a stop. For a moment, the train sat there, and all who were near the engine could hear the bubbling, gurgling sound of the boiling water, as well as the loud whoosh of excess steam pressure being bled off by the rhythmic opening and closing of the relief valve.

The conductor, impressive looking in his blue uniform and with the shining railroad badge on his cap, stepped down from the first car. He was carrying a small step-assist with him, and he put that in front of the boarding step that hung down from the car. Then, turning toward the car, he waited as three people got off. Because of the size of the town, Smoke knew almost everyone who lived here, and he recognized Mr. and Mrs. Dumey as they stepped down from the train. They weren’t ranchers, but owned a small farm just outside of town. They also had a daughter in Colorado Springs, and Smoke was reasonably sure they were just now returning from a visit there.

Dumey verified that fact when, a second later, he saw Smoke standing there.

“Smoke, what do think?” Dumey called out to him. “We have a new granddaughter!”

Smoke smiled back. “Good news, Dumey. I hope she gets her looks from Carol and your daughter, and not from you,” he teased.

Dumey laughed. “I think you are right there. I would not want her looking like this ugly face.”

“Oh, Chris, what are you talking about? I think you are a very handsome man,” Carol replied.

“Ah, you see, Smoke. I still have her fooled,” Chris called back, eliciting more good-natured laughter.

Smoke recognized the drummer too. It was Phil Roach, and he sold ladies’ notions.

“Hello, Phil, I hope you are having a successful outing,” Smoke said.

“I’m doing well, thank you, Smoke,” Phil replied.

Those were the only three people to get down from the train, and Smoke was the only one waiting to get on.

“You’re it, Mr. Jensen,” the conductor said. “Time to get on board.”

“Thanks, Sam,” Smoke replied. He looked over at Pearlie and Cal. “I expect you two boys to do me proud at the rodeo,” he said.

“We will,” Cal promised.

“Smoke …” Sally began, but she didn’t finish her sentence.

“You were going to tell me to be careful, weren’t you?” Smoke asked.

“No,” Sally replied. “I wasn’t going to—”

“Sally?” Smoke challenged.

“All right, yes, I suppose I was,” Sally said. “But this will be the first time in a long time that you have gone anywhere without any of us. And you know yourself that there has been more than one incident where having us along was a good thing.”

“I’ll admit that, yes,” Smoke said.

“We won’t be with you this time.”

“So?”

Sally laughed. “You are going to make me say it, aren’t you?”

“Why not? You are dying to,” Smoke said.

“All right. Be careful.”

With another laugh, Smoke kissed her goodbye. Then he waved at Pearlie and Cal before stepping up into the car.

The car was dimly lit by six wall-mounted lanterns, three on either side, in the front, middle, and back of the car. Smoke found a seat midway through the car on the depot side, and sitting down, he raised the window and looked out at Sally, Pearlie, and Cal. They were still there, and would remain there, Smoke knew, not only until the train left the station, but until it was well out of sight.

It was odd, he thought, how a person’s life took such turns and twists. As he sat there, looking out at the woman who was now so much a part of his life—a part of him, really—he could well believe that she was the only one ever for him. And yet, if Nicole had not been killed, he would have never even met Sally, and he knew, with no diminishment of his feelings for Sally, that he would have been just as happy and satisfied.

BOOK: Shootout of the Mountain Man
13.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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