The Greatest Western Writer Of The 21st Century
Selling his gun to the highest bidder, sharpshooter Monte Carson rode side by side with Big Jim Slaughter, the most feared hombre in Wyoming Territory. But when Monte decided to reform his ways and give back $50,000 in stolen army payroll, he made an enemy in Slaughter and a friend in mountain man Smoke Jensen. Now, an enraged Slaughter wants his money, and if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to kill Monte’s wife, his hostage in an outlaw paradise called Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For Smoke, there’s no choice but to come down off the mountain and ride straight into the Hole, where he and Slaughter will go head to head in a fiery clash of courage, fury, and guns.
Smoke Jensen came fully awake, his heart hammering
as he sat up straight in the bed, his hand automatically
reaching for the Colt .44 that was never very far from his
Sally opened her eyes, blinked twice, and asked in a
sleepy voice, “What is it, darling?”
Smoke shook his head, forgetting for the moment she
couldn’t see him in the darkness. “I don’t know,” he answered,
the hairs on the back of his neck stirring at some
as yet unexplained noise or movement.
He turned his head toward the window, where a light
breeze was billowing the curtains, bringing into the room
the sweet scent of mountain laurel and pine needles along
with a hint of ozone that foretold of fall showers on the way.
Sally glanced at the glint of moonlight on the barrel of
Smoke’s gun and sat up herself, reaching for the Colt Navy
.36-caliber pistol on the table next to her side of the bed.
“Something wrong, dear?” she asked.
Smoke slipped out of bed and pulled on his buckskin
trousers, which he’d flung over the back of a chair the
night before. “I’ll let you know in a minute, sweetheart. Go
back to sleep.”
“Not on your life, Smoke. I’ve learned never to ignore
your instincts.” She threw the covers back and grabbed a
robe from the foot of the bed. “If something woke you up,
then I’m going to go with you to find out what it is.”
She could see his teeth gleaming in the semidarkness as
he grinned at her. “Well, there’s no need for both of us to lose
sleep. Why don’t you check it out and I’ll go back to bed?”
She put her hands on his shoulders, turned him
around, and pushed him toward the door. “I’ll be right
“So that’s the way it is, huh?” he whispered over his
shoulder. “I take all the risks and you stay safe behind me.”
“That’s why God gave you such big shoulders, dear, so I
could hide behind them,” she answered with a chuckle.
Smoke snorted. “That’ll be the day.”
They walked through the darkness of the cabin and
stepped to the back door. Smoke eased it open, eared
back the hammer on his Colt, and stepped outside. Sally
followed him out the door and stepped to his side, her
Colt Navy held in front of her.
The night was typical for early fall in the high lonesome
of the Rocky Mountains where they had their ranch, Sugarloaf.
The sky was crystal clear with millions of stars
shining down like diamonds on a field of black velvet. The
moon, though not full, shone with brilliance through the
thin air, illuminating the area around the cabin with a
ghostly yellow light. Lightning danced in dark, roiling
clouds over distant mountaintops and the faint sounds
of thunder could be heard.
Smoke’s eyes stopped their movement and he pointed
to the hitching post off to the side. “There’s a horse,” he
Sally followed his gesture and could see a solitary horse
standing next to the hitching post, its head down as it
calmly munched on nearby grass. Its reins were hanging
loose, as if it’d wandered to the post by itself.
“It’s wearing a saddle so there must be a rider somewhere
close by,” Sally whispered back.
Smoke reached inside the cabin and grabbed his
Greener ten-gauge short-barreled express gun off a rack
next to the door. He stuck his Colt in his waistband and
held the Greener in both hands as he stepped off the
porch and approached the riderless horse.
“Be careful, Smoke, there may be more than one of
them out there,” Sally called softly, her eyes flicking back
and forth as she tried to cover his back. Since Smoke had
once been a notorious gunfighter, she knew there was
always the possibility of men tracking him down, looking
to get revenge for some perceived wrong Smoke had done
“There’s something familiar about this horse,” Smoke
said, a puzzled expression on his face as he turned back to
look at Sally. “I’ve seen that blaze on his forehead before.”
Sally took a closer look at the horse and realized she
knew who its owner was. “Wait a minute, Smoke,” she said,
putting her hand on the barrel of the shotgun and pushing
it toward the ground. “I think that’s Monte Carson’s horse.”
Smoke walked over to the horse and examined the
saddle. “You’re right, Sally. It is Monte’s mount.”
Monte Carson was the sheriff at Big Rock, Colorado,
the closest town to the Jensen ranch, and a dear friend of
Smoke and Sally.
When Sally got to Smoke’s side, she noticed the look on
his face. “What’s wrong, Smoke? You look like you’ve seen
He pointed at the side of the saddle. The leather was covered
with a large stain, looking almost black in the moonlight,
that ran down the sides of the saddle onto the fender skirts
of the stirrups. Smoke put his finger on the stain and held it
under his nose. The coppery scent brought back unpleasant
memories of times he’d been shot. “It’s blood. Something
bad’s happened to Monte.”
He eased the hammers down on the shotgun and laid
the barrel on his shoulder as he looked around, searching
for his friend in the semidarkness. “I guess I’d better get
some of the hands up and we’ll do a search. If this blood’s
his, he’s injured pretty bad. It won’t do to leave him out
here too long.”
Sally pulled her robe close around her against the chill
of the mountain air. “I’ll get some water on the stove to
boil and have my medical kit handy.”
Smoke nodded his approval. “Put some coffee on too,
please. We’re gonna need it if we spend too much time
out here in the cold.”
Sally walked back toward their cabin and Smoke proceeded
to the bunkhouse across the wide yard. He opened
the door and moved to the wood stove in the corner,
which was still warm from the evening before. He lit a
lantern on a shelf and picked up a coffeepot and banged
it on the stove a couple of times.
His foreman, Pearlie, sat up in his bed, yawning and
rubbing sleepy eyes, a puzzled expression on his wrinkled,
sunburned face. “Pearlie, get everybody up!” Smoke said.
“Sheriff Monte Carson’s horse showed up here covered
with blood. I think Monte may be out there in the night
bleeding to death. We need to find him.”
Pearlie scrambled out of bed, clapping his hands and
shouting, “Off yore butts an’ on yore feet! We got work
to do and we got to do it fast!”
The cowboys, most of whom knew Monte and liked
him, didn’t argue. They swung out of their beds and
began to pull their clothes on.
“Sally’ll have coffee ready over at the cabin. Report
there when you’re finished dressing,” Smoke said as he
left the bunkhouse.
By the time Pearlie had the hands gathered outside the
cabin, Sally had biscuits and sausage patties cooked along
with a large pot of fresh coffee.
Pearlie, a renowned chowhound, made sure he was at
the front of the line for food. “Havin’ some of your fresh-
cooked biscuits and sausage almost makes gettin’ up at
this ungodly hour worth it, Miss Sally,” he said, as he
grabbed a handful of the sausage and biscuit sandwiches.
Cal Woods, Pearlie’s best friend and unofficial son to
Smoke and Sally, spoke up from behind the foreman.
“Hey, go easy there, Pearlie. Anybody’d think you ain’t
eaten for days the way you grabbin’ those sinkers.”
Pearlie puffed out his chest. “The man who has to do
most of the work gets the most food, Cal, my boy. That’s
the way it’s always been and that’s the way it always will be.”
“Huh,” Cal snorted through his nose. “The only time
you move faster’n molasses in January is when you’re
rushing toward a mess tent.”
Pearlie shook his head. “Boys! You just don’t understand
the difficulty being in charge of a bunch of lazy
galoots like you causes a man. Why, I get plumb wore out
just thinkin’ on ways to get you to earn your salary.”
He paused to stuff another sandwich into his mouth as
Smoke stepped up on the porch to address the group of
“Boys, we need to get moving. Monte is out there, so
let’s go find him.” He glanced at Pearlie. “Pearlie, you organize
the men to cover all the territory between here
and the gate to the road to Big Rock. If we don’t find him
there, we’ll move on down toward the town.”
“Yes, sir, Smoke,” Pearlie said, and he turned and began
giving orders to the men on where to search.
Sally put a hand on Smoke’s arm. “Perhaps we ought to
send someone to Big Rock to fetch Doc Spalding.”
Smoke nodded. “Cal, hold on a minute. I want you to
saddle up and ride as fast as you can to Big Rock and get
Doc out here. And tell him to bring what he needs for a
Cal nodded once and sprinted toward the barn to get
It took the men less than thirty minutes to find the
wounded Monte Carson and carry him to Smoke’s cabin.
“Put him on the bed,” Sally said.
She tore open his shirt and looked at his wounds. She
glanced up at Smoke. “Looks like he’s been hit twice,
once just below the left shoulder and once in the chest.”
“Is it in his lung?” Smoke asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. He doesn’t have
any bloody froth on his lips and he seems to be breathing
As Sally took cloths and dipped them in hot water and
began to wash his wounds, Smoke bent over the bed, his
lips close to Monte’s ear.
“Monte, can you hear me?”
Monte’s eyes flickered and opened, his lips curling in a
half smile. “Of course I can hear you, Smoke. I’ve been
shot, but I ain’t deaf.”
Smoke grinned. It was a good sign his friend could still
joke in spite of having two bullets in him. “Who did this to
you, pal, and why?”
Monte’s eyes moved to look at Sally, then back to
Smoke. “Big Jim Slaughter and his men.”
“I thought Slaughter was up around Wyoming, near the
Monte nodded, then groaned with the pain the movement
caused. “He was. He decided to pay me a visit and
talk over some old times.”
Smoke pursed his lips. He hadn’t been aware that Monte
used to ride with Slaughter, who was one of the most vicious
and bloodthirsty killers still roaming the countryside.
Before he could ask any more questions, the door opened
and Doc Cotton Spalding walked in, followed by Cal.
Sally stepped back from Monte’s side and she and the
doc began to discuss his wounds and what to do next.
Smoke grabbed Cal by the arm and led him out to the
kitchen. “Let’s let the doc do his work in peace, Cal.”
Smoke went out on the porch and told the men waiting
there he thought Monte was going to be all right and they
could go back to bed if they wanted.
Pearlie laid his hand on the butt of his Colt pistol. “Who
did this to him, Smoke? Me and the boys’d like to have a
talk with them galoots.”