Table of Contents
Kenny was faster than Fargo expected. The man’s right hand dropped to his holster, the .45 started gleaming in the light of the Rochester lamps and—
And in a single swift move, Fargo spun back toward the bar, grabbed the whiskey bottle by the neck and hurled it at the other man’s gun hand. The bottle smashed so hard against Kenny’s hand that his shot went wild as he squeezed it off. He stood there looking confused and angry, as if some diabolical magician’s trick had just been played on him.
Then he made a move so dumb Fargo gave up coddling him. Drunk as he was, Kenny dove in the direction of the .45 that had been knocked from his hand and then skidded a few feet away.
Fargo had put two bullets in Kenny’s gun hand before the man was even close enough to his weapon to retrieve it.
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, August 2009
The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
Black Hills Badman
, the three
hundred thirty-third volume in this series.
Copyright © Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2009
eISBN : 978-1-101-06033-9
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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.
Colorado, 1861—three men dead, a town filled
with ugly secrets and Fargo trying to stay alive long enough
to learn the truth.
Skye Fargo might not have found the body if he hadn’t decided to stop by the creek and fill his canteen.
Late September in Colorado was a melancholy time with the thinness of the afternoon sunlight and the snow-peaked mountains looking cold and aloof.
Ground-tying his big Ovaro stallion, Fargo grabbed his canteen from his saddle and walked through buffalo grass until he came to the narrow, winding creek. The water was clean. He hunched down next to it, opening his canteen. A jay cried. Fargo looked over to see what the hell was wrong with the damned bird.
And that was when he saw, sticking out from behind a ponderosa pine to his right, a pair of boots. Easy to assume that attached to those boots was a body.
He finished filling his canteen before getting up and walking through the smoky air to stand over the remains of what appeared to be a teenager of maybe sixteen, seventeen years. From the denim shirt and Levi’s and chaps, Fargo figured that the kid had been a drover. Cattle were getting to be a big business around here.
The birds had already been at him pretty good. The cheeks reminded Fargo of a leper he’d once seen. One of the eyes had been pecked in half. Dried blood spread over the front of the kid’s shirt. Hard to tell how long the kid had been here. Fargo figured a long day at least. The three bullets had done their job.
He found papers in the kid’s back pocket identifying him as Clete Byrnes, an employee of the Bar DD and a member of the Cawthorne, Colorado, Lutheran Church. Cawthorne was a good-sized town a mile north of here. That was where Fargo had been headed.
He stood up, his knees cracking, and rolled himself a smoke. He’d seen his share of death over the years and by now he was able to see it without letting it shake him. The West was a dangerous place and if bullets weren’t killing people then diseases were. But the young ones got to him sometimes. All their lives ahead of them, cut down so soon.
The cigarette tasted good, the aroma killing some of the stench of the kid’s body.
Not far away was a soddie. He walked toward it and called out. Then he went to the door but there was no answer.
He went back to his Ovaro, untied his blanket and carried it back to the corpse. He spread the blanket out on the grass and started the process of rolling the body on it. Something sparkled in the grass. He leaned over and picked it up. A small silver button with a heart stamped on it. Something from a woman’s coat. He dropped it into his pocket.
When the blanket was wrapped tight, he hefted the body up on his shoulder and carried it over to the stallion. He slung it across the animal’s back and grabbed the rope. A few minutes later the kid was cinched tight and Fargo was swinging up in the saddle.
Two minutes later he was on his way to Cawthorne.
Karen Byrnes had no more than opened the door and stepped inside when she saw the frown on Sheriff Tom Cain’s face. She knew she was a nuisance and she really didn’t give a damn.
A regional newspaper had once called Sheriff Cain “the handsomest lawman in the region.” Much as she disliked the man, she had to give him his bearing and looks. Sitting now behind his desk in his usual black suit, white shirt and black string tie, the gray-haired man had the noble appearance of a Roman senator. It was said that he’d always looked this age, fifty or so, even when he was only thirty. It was also said that many gunfighters had mistaken the man’s premature gray for a slowing of his abilities. He’d killed well over two dozen men in his time.
The office was orderly: a desk, gun racks on the east wall, WANTED posters on the right. The windows were clean, the brass spittoon gleamed and the wood stacked next to the pot-bellied stove fit precisely into the wooden box. Tom Cain was famous for keeping things neat. People kidded him about it all the time.
The hard blue eyes assessed Karen now. She tried to dismiss their effect on her. Somehow even a glance from Cain made her feel like a stupid child who was wasting his time.
“There’s no news, Karen.”
“Been two days, Tom.”
“I realize it’s been two days, Karen.”
“They found the other two right away.”
“Pure luck. That’s how things work out sometimes.”
She had planned to let her anger go this time. She would confront him with the fact that if her brother Clete was dead that would make three young men who had been murdered in Cawthorne within the past month. And the legendary town tamer Tom Cain hadn’t been able to do a damned thing about it. The father of one of the victims had stood up at a town council meeting and accused Cain of not being up to the task of finding the killer. He had immediately been dragged out of the meeting. In Cawthorne nobody insulted Tom Cain. When he’d come here four years ago nobody had been safe. Two warring gangs of outlaws held the town for ransom. Many of the citizens had started to pack up their things and leave. To the shock and pleasure of everybody, Cain had needed only five months to set the gangs to running. Eleven of them were buried in the local cemetery. It was downright sacrilegious to insult Tom Cain.
“My mother’s dying, Tom. You know that. Her heart’s bad enough—if we don’t find Clete—”
He stood up, straightened his suit coat and came around the desk. Just as he reached her she began to cry, something she’d promised herself she wouldn’t do. He gathered her up and took her to him, her pretty face reaching well below his neck. He let her cry and she resented it and appreciated it at the same time.
“We’re all just so scared, Tom. Especially my mother.”
His massive hand cupped the back of the small blond head and pressed it to him.
“I’m going to find him, Karen. I promise you that. And I’m going to find out who killed the other ones, too. I haven’t had any luck yet but I think that’s going to change.”