The Trailsman #392: Colorado Carnage

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9780451468031: The Trailsman #392: Colorado Carnage
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One town’s as deadly as another...

Fargo can’t say no when the oddball citizens of the near-dead boomtown of Lodestone offer him a small fortune to guide them on a two-day trip to a new home over the mountains. But when there are two separate attempts to gun him down, the Trailsman realizes that somebody doesn’t want the people of Lodestone going anywhere—except six feet under.
 

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About the Author:

Jon Sharpe is the author of the long-running Trailsman western series, featuring the adventures of tracker Skye Fargo.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTELLIGENCE TEST

The Trailsman

Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.

The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.

The Rocky Mountains, 1861—two towns wage
war and Fargo is caught in the middle.

1

Skye Fargo wasn’t expecting trouble. He was high in the Rocky Mountains, camped for the night in a small clearing. His fire had died low and the Ovaro was dozing. He lay on his back with his head propped in his hands and listened to the wavering howl of a far-off wolf.

A big man, broader at the shoulders than most, Fargo wore buckskins and a red bandanna and boots. Unlike some men, he never took his boots off when he turned in for the night. Not in the wilds. A man never knew but when danger might threaten.

Fargo was on the cusp of drifting off when the Ovaro raised its head and nickered. Instantly, he was alert. The stallion was staring toward the rutted road they had been following for the better part of three days. Its ears were pricked and its nostrils flared, and it stamped a front hoof.

Fargo rolled off his blankets and into a crouch, drawing his Colt as he rose. It was pushing midnight. No ordinary traveler would be abroad that late. Only those up to no good.

Working quickly, using his saddlebags and a branch he’d broken for firewood, Fargo rigged his blanket so at a glance it would appear he was asleep. As a last touch he placed his hat where his head would be.

Melting into the shadows, Fargo waited. It could have been hostiles. The Utes weren’t happy about having their territory overrun by the white man. Or it could have been highwaymen. Thanks to all the gold and silver strikes that lured pilgrims by the thousands to the mountains, outlaws were as thick as fleas on a hound dog.

Fargo heard footfalls and a whisper. They were clumsy about it. That told him they weren’t Utes. No self-respecting warrior would be so careless. By the sounds he counted three.

Fargo had crouched in front of a small pine so his silhouette would blend into the tree’s. They didn’t spot him. They were intent on his blankets. At the edge of the clearing they stopped, and to Fargo’s amusement, one of them was dumb enough to whisper to the others.

“Do you reckon it’s him?”

“Has to be. Look at that horse. If that ain’t a pinto, I’ll eat my spurs.”

Fargo’s amusement faded. The Ovaro wasn’t a pinto, but those who didn’t know horses often mistook it for one. Of more interest was the fact that the three lunkheads were after him, specifically. Few people knew he was in that part of the country at that particular time. His mind raced with what it might mean. He had questions, and he wanted answers.

The third man whispered something Fargo didn’t catch and the three spread out and converged. Their pistols were out and pointed but they weren’t very sure of themselves. They inched forward as if treading on eggshells.

Fargo’s natural inclination was to gun them then and there. Instead he said, “That’s far enough, gents.”

Two froze, but the third spun and raised his revolver. Fargo fanned his Colt and the slug caught the would-be assassin in the chest and smashed him onto his back.

The other two stared as their companion writhed and gurgled and died.

“Are you as stupid as your pard?” Fargo said. “Drop your hardware or the same happens to you.”

One man dropped his as if it were a hot coal. “Don’t shoot, mister. Please. I ain’t hankerin’ to die.”

The last outlaw hesitated. “You’ll kill us anyway.”

“Not if you shed that six-shooter,” Fargo said.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Your choice.”

The man made up his mind. He dived and fired at where he thought Fargo must have been but he was wide by a yard. Fargo fanned the Colt twice and the body flopped a few times and was still.

“God Almighty!” the man who had dropped his revolver exclaimed, and jerked his arms at the stars. “Please, mister. I have a missus and five sprouts.”

Fargo unfurled and warily walked over.

The surviving specimen was in his twenties. He was cockeyed and had a nose that had been busted once and was bent at an odd angle. Tufts of hair grew from his cheeks and chin and his mouth was crooked. He was scrawny, besides, and by the look of things, hadn’t made the acquaintance of water and soap in years.

You have a wife?” Fargo said.

“I sure do. Her name is”—he paused for almost five seconds—“Clementine. And don’t forget our five young’uns. There’s, uh, Sally and Chester and, uh, Penelope, and, uh, the other two.”

“As a liar, you’re downright pitiful.”

“What makes you think I ain’t tellin’ the truth?”

Fargo sniffed.

“Oh. Well, it could be my missus doesn’t mind stink. Some females don’t use their noses much.”

“Do you ever listen to yourself?”

“What?”

“How about if I shoot you in the leg?” Fargo said. “Will you still claim you’re married?”

“I’d get a divorce right quick.”

Fargo smothered a grin. This assassin was about as intimidating as a kitten. “What’s your handle?”

“Chester.”

“You just said that’s the name of your son.”

“It’s my name, too,” Chester said. “It was all I could come up with. I thought of sayin’ my son’s name was Socks. That’s what I call my horse on account of he has white on each leg down near his hoof. When I first got him I was goin’ to call him Floyd after my pa but then I figured Socks was fancier.”

Fargo stared.

“What?” Chester said.

“Who sent you to kill me?”

“I’d rather not say.”

Fargo raised the Colt. “Stretch your leg out so I can be sure to hit your knee. When you’re done rolling around, we’ll talk some more.”

“Hold on!” Chester bleated. “I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you!”

“Before Christmas,” Fargo said.

“That ain’t for months yet. It’s only summer. You must have your months mixed up. The way to remember is that in the summer it’s hot, and Christmas is when it’s cold. That’s how I remember it.”

“Chester?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Who the hell hired you?”

“You won’t believe me. I wouldn’t believe me and I was there. I thought maybe I was seein’ things since I was drunk at the time. But Hardy and Wilson saw whoever they were, too, so it wasn’t like that time I drank so much bug juice, I saw a little green feller with pointy shoes dancin’ in the middle of the street.”

“Are you doing this on purpose?”

“Doin’ what?”

“Get back to who hired you. What’re their names and where do I find them?”

“It was just one. I guess you could call him the Hood, which ain’t much of a name. I guess you could call him Shiny Boots since his were but I wasn’t lookin’ at his boots much with him in that hood.”

Fargo took a step back and studied him.

“What?” Chester said again.

“The man who hired you wore a hood?”

“Ain’t that what I just told you? He met us out back of the saloon and that’s what he was wearin’. Although now that I think about it, it might have been a burlap sack. So maybe we should call him the Sack.”

“And he hired you to kill me?”

“Well, it was Hardy the feller got word to.” Chester nodded at the first man Fargo had shot. “That’s Hardy, there. He was as bad as they come. He’d killed five or six folks. I can’t remember which. And there was nothin’ he liked more than robbin’ and stealin’.” He nodded at the other body. “Wilson, there, was a badman, too. But he liked puppies so I reckon he wasn’t as bad as Hardy.”

“How did you end up with two hard cases?”

“I sort of begged,” Chester said. “I told them how I’d always wanted to be a badman. And how I’d cook for them and take care of their horses and do anything if they’d teach me how to be bad like they were. They laughed and slapped me around some, and finally Hardy said it might be fun to have me around, sort of like a pet was how he put it.”

“Your dream in life is to be an outlaw?”

“Not that so much as to have folks be scared of me. Ever since I was little, people have picked on me because I’m, well, ugly. You know what it’s like to be teased all the time? Probably not, a handsome galoot like you. But me, I look in a mirror and the glass cracks.”

“Chester?”

“Sir?”

“The Hood. Or the Sack.”

“Oh. Well, like I said, he got word to Hardy, and we went and met out back of the saloon, and this Hood or Sack told Hardy we’d get a thousand dollars if we put windows in your noggin.”

Fargo was genuinely shocked. A thousand dollars was a lot of money. Who did he know with that much to throw around who might want him dead? “Did you recognize the voice?”

Chester shook his head. “It was muffled by the sack. And, too, I got the idea the feller wasn’t talkin’ as he normally would. It was sort of like he had rocks in his mouth, or maybe cotton, since rocks are hard and can hurt.”

“How did you know where to find me?”

“The Sack said as how you were headin’ for Lodestone, and if we kept watch along the road from Denver, sooner or later we’d spot a gent on a pinto and it would be you. Sure enough, just before the sun went down, we spotted you comin’ up the mountain and Hardy said we’d wait until you were asleep and do you in. Only you weren’t asleep—you were playin’ possum. And now he’s dead and Wilson’s dead and I have no one to teach me how to make folks be scared of me.”

Fargo was curious. “Have you ever killed anyone?”

“Me? I ain’t ever even beat anyone up. This would have been my first time, but between you and me, I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. My stomach was flippin’ up and down the whole time we snuck up on you. I figured I’d let Hardy and Wilson do the shootin’ and I’d pretend I did.”

“How would you pretend to kill me?”

“By pointin’ my pistol at the ground and shootin’ the dirt. It don’t hurt anybody when you shoot dirt.”

“Just when you think you’ve heard it all,” Fargo said.

“I ain’t hardly started,” Chester said. “Do you want to hear about the time my pa whaled on me with a switch because I used his razor to shave the dog? He about took all my skin off, he was so mad. Drug me out of the house by the scruff of my neck and . . .”

Fargo held up his other hand.

“You don’t want to hear my story?”

“Not this side of hell, no.”

“Well, that’s rude.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Leghorny.”

“Your real last name.”

“As God is my witness,” Chester said. “I didn’t like it much growin’ up. It wasn’t bad enough bein’ teased about how I look. I got teased about my name a lot, too. I wanted to change it but Pa said if it was good enough for him and his pa, then it was good enough for me and if I changed it he’d take his switch to me. He was awful fond of usin’ that thing and I didn’t want to give him an excuse so I kept my name Leghorny and here I am.”

Fargo had a sense he had learned all he was going to, and then some, about the man who’d hired the assassins. But he tried anyway. “Did the Sack say why he wants me dead?”

“He might have told Hardy, but he didn’t tell me. Fact is, when we met him out back of the saloon, he looked at me with those eyes-in-a-sack and asked what I was doin’ there. Wilson stood up for me and said I was part of the deal and take it or leave it and the Sack took it.”

Fargo had a lot to ponder but first things first. “Drag your friends off into the trees yonder.”

Chester stepped to Hardy and bent and gripped his wrists, then looked up. “You’re not goin’ to help?”

“Drag,” Fargo said.

Grumbling, Chester Leghorny hauled both badmen into the woods. He was still grumbling when Fargo marched him at gunpoint to the fire and made him sit with his hands behind his back.

“You’re fixin’ to tie me? Why not let me go?”

“I’m turning you over to the law in Lodestone,” Fargo revealed.

“What for?” Chester asked, incredulous.

“For hiring out to kill me.”

“But I didn’t go through with it. It’s not against the law to say you’ll do somethin’. It’s only against the law when you do it.”

“I’m turning you over to the law anyway.”

“Well, hell,” Chester said. “What’s this country comin’ to when a man doesn’t do somethin’ and he still gets thrown in jail? You’ve ruined my day. I could use a drink right about now.”

“Makes two of us,” Fargo said.

2

Lodestone had sprung up barely a year and a half ago. A prospector had found some color in a creek and traced it to a vein. He filed a claim, then made the mistake of going to Denver to treat himself to a painted lady and crowed about how rich he was going to be. He downed so much booze, it took him three days to recover. When he finally made it back into the mountains, he discovered a tent city had sprung up.

Lodestone was born.

Like other boomtowns, it thrived. The gold practically jumped out of the ground. Log and frame buildings replaced the tents. Bustling saloons and businesses lined the streets.

Or so Fargo had heard. But now, as he wound down the last stretch of road leading Chester’s horse and the two that belonged to Hardy and Wilson, he saw streets that were almost empty. Instead of the hubbub of voices, he heard only the bark of a dog.

Chester Leghorny noticed, too. “Why, look at that. There’s hardly anybody around. How can that be?”

“You don’t know?”

“How would I? I’ve never been to Lodestone before.”

“Isn’t that where the man who wore the sack hired you?”

Chester shook his head. “It was over to Silver Creek. Didn’t I mention that? If I didn’t, it was because I was flustered, what with you killin’ my pards and all.”

Fargo’s puzzlement grew. He knew no one in Silver Creek. He’d never even been there. As best he recollected, it came into being a couple of years ago, thanks to a silver strike, and was about fifty miles from Lodestone, over the Divide.

“I wanted to stop here on the way to find you, but Hardy refused,” Chester was saying. “He said the job came first. That after we killed you, we could spend a couple of days in Lodestone.” Chester sighed. “So much for havin’ fun.”

“Maybe the marshal will let you have a night on the town before he throws you behind bars.”

Chester brightened. “Do you really reckon he would? Not that I could have much of a night, me bein’ broke and all.” He paused. “Wait. You were joshin’, weren’t you?”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t, mostly. It tires my brain too much. The best way to go through life is not to think at all.”

“You seem to have the hang of it.”

“Why, thank you. I’ve tried hard not to let my brain get in the way of me havin’ a good time.”

They reached t...

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