Authors: Jon Sharpe
Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns, #General
“Hell, Waldo, you was smoking tar balls. That stuff addles a man’s brains.”
“Tar balls ain’t like peyote,” Waldo insisted. “It makes me feel like I’m floating, sort of, and gives me strange dreams. But it actually makes my hearing sharper. I heard every damn word. And, Butch, I’m telling you straight from the shoulder—they were talking chummy.”
“Hell, you boys know how strange Jenny is. Look how she was right before she had the Burro kill Boots Winkler—why, her tone was dripping honey.”
“This is true,” Lupe put in, his face troubled. “But a thing
did she march Fargo and his friend all over the gulch so all of us could see they had been beaten? As you just said, Butch, it set your mind at ease. Was that perhaps her plan all along? To—how you say—to…”
“Allay our suspicions,” Waldo supplied.
Lupe nodded. “
The very thing.”
McDade’s habitual sneer twisted into a frown. “That is a mite queer, ain’t it? And Fargo killing Lem like he done—that look on Jenny’s face, almost like she was telling the men there was a new sheriff in town.”
“Now you’re snapping wise,” Waldo approved. “Boys, the smartest thing we can do is saddle up and light a shuck out of this gulch. Jenny figures there’s too many pigs for the tits, and
are the three little pigs she means to have Fargo slaughter first.”
Butch slammed a fist into the table. “Damn it all, Waldo, even if that’s all true, why get snow in your boots? We got a good setup here, and Lupe was right—Jenny ain’t the problem; it’s Fargo. You’re the one with the good think-piece on his shoulders. Scratch us up a plan.”
“I already have,” Waldo replied. “I knew you wouldn’t agree to light out, so I have an idea that’s even better than just killing Fargo and his sidekick—it takes out the Burro and Norton, too, and leaves Jenny helpless without us. It also pulls in the rest of the men.”
“Well, do I have to beat it out of you?”
“You know how damn bored the men are, and how much they like to wager. So we announce a knife fight between Lupe and Fargo and we take the bets. We act like Jenny’s already agreed to it and get the men all het up on the idea, see?”
Waldo glanced at Lupe. “I’m assuming you got no objections?”
Lupe’s teeth flashed out of his dusky face. He caressed the cord-wrapped hilt of his dag by way of reply. Then something occurred to him.
You have seen what Fargo can do with his legs.”
“Yeah, I thought about that. So we announce the fight is going to be a Mexican standoff.”
“The hell’s that?” Butch demanded.
Lupe grinned. “The two—how you say—opponents’ left
wrists are tied together. The fight begins with their knives held straight overhead in their right hands. I have killed several men in standoffs like this. Best of all, we will be too close for Fargo to mount a good kick.”
“Right,” Waldo said, “but we have to let on that the fight is
to the death, or Jenny will never go along with it—remember her claim that Fargo is a ‘valuable asset.’”
“So she says,” Butch interjected. “She’s still sandbagging on writing the ransom letter.”
“Anyway,” Waldo concluded, “we make out that whoever draws first blood is the winner, no killing allowed.”
“Yeah, but Jenny still might not play along,” Butch objected. “You know how she raises holy hell when we cook up something without getting her say-so.”
“That’s the genius of my plan,” Waldo boasted. “She won’t know we cooked it up. We get the men fired up on it, then go to her and claim they’re the ones demanding it. You know how she tries to keep them happy. We’ll tell her they might riot if they don’t get some good entertainment. She’ll fall in line.”
Butch pondered all of this and finally nodded. “Sure, and Lupe cuts the son of a bitch open from neck to nuts. But, say—Fargo gets around, he likely knows Lupe’s reputation as a knife fighter. How do we know he’ll string along?”
“Do not worry about Fargo,” Lupe said. “He and his Arkansas toothpick are also
. He is a confident man.”
“And a strutting peacock,” Waldo added. “He won’t back down in front of Jenny.”
“All right, but I don’t see how the Burro and Norton figure in,” Butch said. “Them two got eyes in the back of their heads.”
“They’re mighty vigilant,” Waldo agreed. “But no man—not even a gelded one—can resist a good knife fight. They’ll be the most distracted at the moment Lupe guts Fargo. That’s when we open up on them. Sure, Jenny will throw a hissy fit, but tough tit. What can she do about it? The rest of the men don’t like them two freaks, either. We’ll be all she has left to control the others and she knows it.”
Butch leveled an admiring gaze on Waldo. “Tate, I knew I kept a soft-handed pus-gut like you around for some reason.
It’s a good plan. But both you boys remember one thing: we can’t set this deal up until day after tomorrow at the earliest. We got no idea what Jenny and Fargo might spring on us before then. That lanky bastard is six sorts of trouble, and that ’breed siding him looks mighty consequential, too. Either we all pull together or we all cop it.”
As Fargo had feared, there was no chance to grab that pinfire on the third morning of his and Buckshot’s captivity—again the door to the privy was left open when the prisoners relieved themselves. El Burro and Norton watched both men, short guns leveled on them, as silent and vigilant as the Swiss Guard protecting the Pope.
Jenny Lavoy, usually talkative at breakfast, was oddly silent as the two men tied into stacks of buckwheat cakes smothered in molasses. She merely sipped her tea and watched Fargo from speculative eyes that made his armpits break out in sweat.
“That little slyboots is up to something,” he told Buckshot after the two men were herded back to the room that had become their prison cell.
“Ain’t she always? Mebbe she’s come to her decision ’bout whether to stick with McDade’s bunch or throw in with us. Way she talked yestiddy, she made it clear she had to shit or get off the pot, and quick.”
“Yeah, and don’t forget what else she said—whoever she sided with, the other side had to die.”
“Uh-huh. She also said you and her had a whatchacallit first…”
“An ‘erotic tryst.’”
“Don’t that mean screwin’?”
“It would with a normal woman. With her, you pay your money and take your chances.”
“Mebbe,” Buckshot suggested, “she’s like them female spiders that kill the male after they mate.”
Fargo sent him a baleful glance. “Why’n’t you just caulk up?”
“That shit she done yestiddy to Jasmine makes me ireful,” Buckshot remarked. “Didja see how pale and scairt that poor gal was this morning? She’s a plumb good sort.”
“Yeah. At first I figured she was lucky not to be stuck with the rest of the prisoners. Now I’m not so sure.”
Buckshot cursed hotly. “It’s the same old story. After you play slap ’n’ tickle with Her Nibs, you can brag how you poked the two prettiest gals in this God-forgotten gulch. And what’s old Buckshot get—jack, that’s what.”
“Right now, old son, I’d be grateful for a real saloon with sawdust on the floor and sporting girls topside.”
“I druther have the sawdust topside and the sporting gals on the floor with me riding them like a bronc buster. Damn it, Fargo, I got cabin fever. This shit with us just waitin’ around to be murdered ain’t our nach’ral gait.”
“There’s always a hole card, Buckshot. We just have to turn it up in time and hope it’s a trump.”
“Hole card, my hairy white ass! What you mean is we best pull a rabbit out of a hat, and mighty damn quick.”
Buckshot leaned closer to Fargo and whispered in his ear. “It’s only Norton sittin’ out in the hall. Should we just bust through the curtains and jump him?”
Fargo, fearing that their demise might be only a fox step away, had been pondering the same move himself. But Norton, like Burro, was fanatical in his devotion to, and protection of, Jenny. His chair was about ten feet back from the archway, his reflexes sharp as a cat’s—and Fargo had always respected the truism that a bullet was faster than any man.
“It’s damn near a hopeless move,” he whispered back, “but I’d do it in two shakes if I believed in my gut Jenny means to order us killed. But I don’t—I think there’s an even chance she’ll decide to deal us in. And an even chance beats a hopeless move.”
Buckshot immediately saw the truth of that and nodded. “That shines, Trailsman. But damn her pretty bones to hell, she best decide quick. We got to make our big play soon. Even if she lets us keep feeding and watering our horses, you know damn good and well they can’t survive long withouten they bust loose.”
Fargo knew exactly what he meant. Even in a protected
draw, those horses were a magnet for danger. Roving Indians could find them, or they could draw the attention of wolf packs or pumas. They’d already been there too long.
Fargo was about to reply when El Burro appeared in the doorway, almost blocking it out. Jenny peeked around him, her enigmatic smile back.
“Come, Mr. Fargo,” she said.
A ball of ice replaced Fargo’s stomach, but he held his face impassive as he rose to his feet. Buckshot met his glance briefly and both men wondered the same thing: was this the end of the trail at last? Fargo accepted the fact of death as did any Western drifter, for on the frontier death was always as real as a man riding beside you. But to die like a hog led to slaughter—that Fargo could not accept.
“Come where, Miss Lavoy?”
Two menacing clicks as the Burro thumbed his hammers to full cock.
“How foolish of me to ask,” Fargo said drily as he headed out of the room.
He was led down the hallway toward the front of the house. At the last archway on the right, Jenny’s room, she pulled the curtains aside. “How do you like it?”
Again Fargo was struck at how she had transformed this old fur traders’ winter quarters into a luxurious habitation with stolen merchandise. He took in a bed with a ruffled canopy and satin pillows, a triple-mirror vanity, thick Persian rugs.
But it was the strange object dangling from the center crossbeam that she was talking about: a giant wicker basket suspended from an ingenious system of ropes, blocks, and pulleys.
“El Burro made it,” she said proudly. “Isn’t he clever?”
“I don’t know,” Fargo replied. “The hell is it?”
“It’s called the basket of ecstasy in English,” she explained, her voice tightening an octave with excitement as she gazed at it. “It’s from that erotic manual I showed you—the
. For years I’ve been wanting to try it.”
Fargo speared his fingers through his hair, perplexed. “Looks to me like you’ve got a fine bed. It won’t be easy for two people to squeeze into that basket. Nor very comfortable.”
She laughed and made a deprecatory motion with her
hand. “Fat lot
know. Never mind, you’ll learn all about it when I send for you this evening. Are you looking forward to our tryst?”
Fargo’s eyes swept over her from the intricately braided brown hair and Greek goddess face to the petite, tautly curved body highlighted to perfection in a pinch-waisted lavender dress. The low-cut bodice showed a generous portion of her creamy breasts, thrust high by tight stays.
“Is Paris a city?” he replied. His eyes shifted back to the basket. “But that contraption…I don’t get it.”
going to get it,” she promised him. “Like you’ve never had it before. I assure you, Mr. Fargo, that even a man of your vast carnal experience is going to be astounded by a sensual experience you’ve never even imagined.”
By now her pitch had hooked him. But when Fargo glanced at the Burro, whose cocked revolvers were two deadly, unblinking eyes staring him down, he couldn’t help recalling Buckshot’s remark:
Mebbe she’s like them female spiders that kill the male after they mate.
* * *
The morning dragged by like a parade of snails, the two prisoners playing no-pot poker, pacing like caged animals, and reminiscing about adventures that now seemed a lifetime behind them.
Just past noon they heard loud knocking on the front door. Fargo moved to the curtains and cocked his head, listening. It didn’t take long to detect the gravelly, blustery voice of Butch McDade. At first Jenny’s voice was just a musical murmur, but as the discussion apparently heated up, her voice grew more strident.