The Greatest Western Writer Of The 21st Century
William W, Johnstone’s legendary mountain men have fought their battles and conquered a fierce frontier. Now, three generations of the Jensen clan are trying to live in peace on their sprawling Colorado ranch. But for men with fighting in their blood, trouble is never very far from their doorstep……
Into The Eye Of A Storm
They are strangers in a strange land—a band of German immigrants trespassing across the Jensen family spread. Led by a baron fleeing a dark past in Germany and accompanied by a woman beautiful enough to dazzle young Matt, the pilgrims are being pursued by a pack of brutal outlaws hungry for blood, money—or maybe something else…. The Jensens are willing to help the pioneers get to the promised land in Wyoming. But they don’t know the whole story of their newfound friends, or who the outlaws really are. By the time the wagon train reaches Wyoming the truth is ready to explode—in a clash of hard fighting, hard choices, and hard deaths in a violent land…
The seven men rode into Big Rock, Colorado, a few minutes before noon. Nobody in the bustling little cow town paid much attention to them. Everyone went on about his own business, even when the men reined their horses to a halt and dismounted in front of the bank.
Clete Murdock was their leader, a craggyfaced man with graying red hair who over the past ten years had robbed banks in five states and a couple of territories. He had killed enough men that he’d lost track of the number, especially if you threw Indians and Mexicans into the count.
His younger brothers Tom and Grant rode with him. Tom was a slightly younger version of Clete, but Grant was the baby of the family, a frecklefaced youngster in his twenties who wanted more than anything else in the world to be a desperado like his brothers.
Until a year or so earlier he had lived on the family farm in Kansas with their parents. But illness had struck down both of the elder Murdocks in the span of a few days, so Grant had set out to find his blacksheep brothers and throw in with them.
Ed Garvey was about as broad as he was tall, with a bristling black spade beard. He wasn’t much good with a handgun. That was why he carried a sawedoff shotgun under his coat. As long as his partners in crime gave him plenty of room, he was a valuable ally. They were careful not to get in his line of fire when he pulled out that street sweeper.
The tall, skinny towhead with the eye that sometimes drifted off crazily was Chick Bowman. The loco eye gave him the look of somebody who might not be right in the head, but in reality Chick was fairly smart for an outlaw who’d had very little schooling in his life.
The one who wasn’t all there was Denny McCoy, who followed Chick around like a devoted pup. Denny was big and barrelchested, and he had accidentally killed two whores by fondling their necks with such enthusiasm that they couldn’t breathe anymore. Chick had gotten Denny out of both of those scrapes without getting either of them lynched.
The member of the gang who had been with Clete the longest was a Crow who called himself Otter. He had worked as a scout for the army, but after coming too damned close to being with Custer when old Yellow Hair went traipsing up the Little Big Horn to his death, Otter had decided that the military life wasn’t for him. He knew Clete, who had been a sergeant before deserting, and had looked him up. Clete’s prejudice against redskins didn’t extend to Otter, the only man he knew who took more pure pleasure in killing than he did.
As the group tied up their horses at the hitch rack in front of the bank, Otter moved closer to Clete and said quietly, “Lawman.”
Clete followed the direction the Crow’s eyes were indicating and saw a burly, middleaged man moving along the boardwalk several buildings away.
“Yeah, I see him,” Clete said. “His name’s Monte Carson. Used to have sort of a name as a fast gun, but he’s been totin’ a badge here for several years and people have pretty much forgotten about him. I wouldn’t underestimate him, but I don’t reckon he poses much of a problem for us, either.”
“Anything goes wrong, I’ll kill him first,” Otter said.
Clete nodded in agreement. Otter would stay with the horses and watch the street. If shots erupted in the bank, the Crow would lift his rifle and drill Sheriff Monte Carson immediately, so he couldn’t interfere with the gang’s getaway.
Otherwise, Otter would wait until the other outlaws left the bank, and if anyone tried to follow them and raise a ruckus, then he would kill Carson.
Either way, there was a very good chance the sheriff would die in the next few minutes. Clete glanced at everyone else and got nods of
readiness from all of them except Denny, who just did what Chick told him to, anyway. The six of them stepped up onto the boardwalk and moved toward the bank’s double doors.
Otter’s head turned slowly as his gaze roamed from one end of the street to the other. This town had been peaceful for too long, he thought wryly. If that hadn’t been the case, someone surely would have noticed the seven human wolves who had ridden in together, not even trying to mask their intentions as they closed in on the bank.
Otter frowned slightly as he thought about the name of the town. Big Rock . . . There was something familiar about that. He knew he had heard of the place for some reason. But he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was.
It didn’t matter, anyway. After today Big Rock would be famous because the Murdock gang had cleaned out the bank and killed a few of the citizens.
A broadshouldered, sandyhaired man in range clothes rode past on a big gray stallion. Otter noticed the horse—a fine one, indeed—but paid little attention to the rider, even when the man reined in and spoke to the sheriff. Otter couldn’t hear the conversation between Carson and the broadshouldered man.
He didn’t think any more about it, convinced of its utter unimportance.
“Matt and Preacher are coming here?” Sheriff Monte Carson asked with a grin.
“That’s right,” Smoke Jensen said as he rested his hands on his saddlehorn and leaned forward to ease his muscles after the ride into Big Rock from his ranch, Sugarloaf. “In fact, they should be riding in today, according to the letter I got from Matt.”
“I’ll be glad to see ’em again,” Monte said. “Good Lord, Preacher must be a hundred years old by now!”
“He’s not quite that long in the tooth yet, and he never has looked or acted as old as he is. I reckon he’ll slow down one of these days, but the last time I saw him he seemed as spry as ever.”
Sometimes it seemed to Smoke that he had known the old mountain man called Preacher his entire life. It was hard to remember that he had been sixteen years old when he and his pa first ran into Preacher, not long after the Civil War. Preacher had been lean, leathery, and whitehaired even then, and he hadn’t seemed to age a day in the years since.
It was Preacher who had first called him Smoke, after seeing young Kirby Jensen handle a gun. So fast that the sight of his draw was as elusive as smoke, Preacher claimed. The young man’s hand was empty, and then there was a gun in it spitting fire and lead, and there seemed to be no step inbetween. Preacher had predicted then that Smoke would become one of the fastest men with a gun the frontier had ever known, and he was right.
But Smoke was one of the few men who had overcome his reputation as a gunfighter and built a respectable life for himself. Marrying the beautiful schoolteacher Sally Reynolds, whom he had met while he was living the life of a wanted outlaw under the name Buck West, probably had a lot to do with that. So had establishing the fine spread known as Sugarloaf and settling down to become a cattleman.
Despite that, troublestill hada way offindingSmoke. He had to use his gun more often than he liked. But he hadn’t been raised to run away from a challenge, and anybody who thought that Smoke Jensen wasn’t dangerous anymore would be in for an abrupt awakening if they threatened him or those he loved.
An abrupt and usually fatal awakening.
Preacher wasn’t the only visitor headed for Big Rock. He and Matt Jensen had agreed to meet in Denver and come on to the settlement together. In the same way that Preacher was Smoke’s adopted father, Matt was his adopted brother, although there was nothing official about it in either case. Smoke had taken Matt under his wing when the youngster was still a boy, the only survivor from a family murdered by outlaws, and with Preacher’s help had raised him into a fine young man who took the Jensen name when he set out on his own.
Although still relatively young in years, Matt had gained a wealth of experience, both while he was still with Smoke and afterward. He had already drifted over much of the frontier and had worked as a deputy, a shotgun guard, and a scout. He had tangled with outlaws, renegade Indians, and bad men of every stripe.
Twice in the fairly recent past, Smoke, Matt, and Preacher had been forced by circumstances to team up to defeat the schemes of a group of crooked politicians and businessmen that had formed out of the ashes of the old Indian Ring. This new Indian Ring was just as vicious as the original, maybe even more so, and even though they seemed to be licking their wounds after those defeats, Smoke had a hunch they would try something else again, sooner or later.
He hoped they wouldn’t interfere with this visit from Preacher and Matt. It would be nice to get together with his family without a bunch of gunplay and danger.
Those thoughts were going through Smoke’s mind as he realized that Monte Carson had asked him a question. He gave a little shake of his head and said, “What was that, Monte?”
“I just asked what time Matt and Preacher are supposed to get here,” the sheriff said.
“I don’t know for sure. They’re riding in, and I figure they’ll be moseying along. Preacher doesn’t get in a hurry unless there’s a good reason to. I thought I’d go over to the café, get something to eat, then find something to occupy my time while I’m waiting for them.”
“Come on by the office,” he said. “We’ll have us a game of dominoes.”
Smoke was just about to accept that invitation when gunshots suddenly erupted somewhere down the street.