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Authors: Jon Sharpe

Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns, #General

Hangtown Hellcat (5 page)

BOOK: Hangtown Hellcat
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“Would you surrender your best weapons?” the Trailsman demanded. “We will give you some sugar and coffee. These are fine things.”

This puny offer clearly angered the brave although his stoic face never altered. His eyes and voice hardened.

“Hair face, it is the white man’s stink that scares away Uncle Pte, the buffalo. Your strong water makes women of our best braves. Even now the white dogs swarm the sacred Paha Sapa”—he meant the Black Hills to the east—“searching for the glittering yellow rocks. Why should we not kill you both and take everything you own?”

Fargo always favored wit and wile over lead slinging. But he feared the worst option was now the only option. Buckshot considered his beloved double-ten an extension of his body, and no man—red, white, or purple—was taking Fargo’s Henry from him.

Fargo’s thumb twitched, knocking the riding thong off the hammer of his Colt. “I hate to say it, Buckshot,” he said in a low tone, “but it’s come down to the nut-cuttin’. Get ready to let ’er rip.”

But Buckshot had followed most of the exchange and now he spoke up. “Hold off, Fargo. ’Member what we done with them Arapahos up at Roaring Horse Canyon?”

Fargo did remember and suddenly grinned inwardly. It just might work, at that.

“You should take nothing from us,” he told the angry brave, “because your medicine will go bad if you do. This man riding with me is We-Ota-Wichasa, a great medicine man. He has come to this country on a vision quest.”

The leader’s voice was mocking. “Words are cheap, things of smoke. Especially in a white man’s mouth as he faces death. Let us see this great ‘shaman’s’ medicine.”

Fargo nodded and looked at Buckshot. The latter lifted his arms like a priest blessing his flock. In a solemn, deep-chested voice he intoned:

Had to take a shit so she squat on the floor;

Wind from her ass blew the cat out the door;

Moon shone bright on the tipples of her nits;

Carved her initials in a bucket of shit.

The Cheyenne understood not one word of this mysterious incantation, but, in spite of themselves, watched this supposed shaman with growing expectation. Buckshot whistled sharply and his cayuse performed a half turn, putting Buckshot’s back to the Cheyenne. His right hand moved up to his face briefly.

He whistled again and the smoky turned back around. Fargo had never seen the color drain from a copper-skinned Indian’s face, but he witnessed it now when the braves saw the raw red socket from which Buckshot’s right eye had simply disappeared.

To cap the climax, his lips curled back to reveal his eye staring at the bucks from his grinning mouth!

The braves did not turn and flee—they were too astounded to even move. And every one of them forgot about the “stoic impassivity” of their faces as their jaws slacked open in astonishment when Buckshot made as if he were chewing.

“We-Ota-Wichasa has plucked out his own eye and now he eats it?” the leader said to Fargo in a wondering tone. “And there is no pain?”

Fargo shook his head. “A new eye will grow back by tomorrow.”

“His medicine is indeed powerful.”

The braves spoke rapidly among themselves. Then the leader raised his hand in the sign for peace before they raced off to the northeast at a gallop.

“Jesus, Buckshot, you are a holy show,” Fargo managed before both men laughed so hard they almost fell off their
mounts. Then Buckshot worked his glass eye back into the socket.

But as they gigged their horses forward again, Fargo added, “You know, Cheyennes are superstitious, right enough. But they’re also smart. They might figure out they were bamboozled somehow and pay us another visit.”

“That’s all right,” Buckshot replied from a deadpan. “I’ll keep an eye out for ’em.”

4

A hot westering sun had soon baked the mud into hard folds and wrinkles. But the recent downpour had made reading sign more difficult and slowed down the two trackers. Fargo still had to worry about the terrain, too. Rock spines, gulches, and thick brush provided excellent cover for any man with dry-gulching on his mind.

“They
still
ain’t joined back up. These murdering scuts are going to a helluva lot of trouble to keep trackers off their spoor,” Buckshot remarked as the two riders crossed through a line of sand hills. “What gets my money is them thinking they can stop Big Ed Creighton from stringing up that telegraph. Why, it’s hog stupid. That stubborn Irishman could route Powder River uphill if he set his mind to it.”

“It’s not so stupid,” Fargo gainsaid. “Remember, they
don’t
know Big Ed. I was out in California when Mexican freebooters stopped a line going up between Sacramento and Los Angeles.”

“I recall that,” Buckshot conceded. “It was a big gang armed to the teeth. And mayhap there’s a big nest of ’em out here, too. How do we play it when we find their hideout?”

Fargo backhanded sweat from his brow, eyes in constant motion. The latest hatch of flies was plaguing him and the Ovaro to distraction.

“Hell, where do all lost years go?” he replied irritably. “What’s after what’s next? Ask me something easy now and then.”

“Ain’t you the touchy son of a bitch now you ain’t gettin’ no poon? Look, you’re the big bushway here. You telling me you ain’t even got a mother-lovin’ plan?”

“You know my anthem, hoss—the best way to cure a boil
is to lance it. I favor handling this deal ourselves. These are stone-cold killers, not a bunch of harum-scarum cowboys hooraying the town. This is a territory, not a state, and it looks like right now we’re the only law around. If there’s too damn many for us to hug with, well, I don’t plan to get us killed in a lost cause. We’ll have to reconnoiter, fix the location, and report it to Fort Laramie.”

“Naught else for it,” Buckshot agreed reluctantly. “Big Ed’s got that pocket relay doodad. If the line is back up, he can send word. It chaps my ass though, Skye. The fort ain’t likely to send out troops. Happens that’s so, the scum buckets that killed Danny and shot up Steve and Ron will escape the wrath. Neither one of us got a gander at any of ’em. Didn’t even glom their horses.”

Fargo nodded, his lips set in a grim, straight line. Yesterday he had vowed the murder would not stand. He also believed it wasn’t true bravery if a man took action only when he was sure of success.

“We’re the only law, Buckshot,” he repeated. “And we’re both death to the devil in a scrape. Piss and vinegar has got us out of some tough fixes before. Straight ahead and keep up the strut, hey?”


Hell
yes!” Buckshot said, rallying. “No matter how you slice it, there’s no laurels to be won. But I never planned to live forever—leastways, not after I met you.”

The sun was a flat orange disk balanced on the western horizon when the two horsebackers reached a clear, sand-bottom creek meandering through a grassy draw.

“Good place to camp,” Fargo decided. “But we best not risk a fire tonight—it’s too open here. We’ll build one tomorrow and get outside of some hot grub before we ride out. That is, if we can pull a fish out of that creek.”

“Sun going low and no hot supper,” Buckshot groused good-naturedly. “
Thank
you, Jesus! Another glorious day siding Skye goldang Fargo.”

The two men loosed their cinches and pulled their saddles, then dropped the bits and bridles before tethering their mounts in good graze beside the creek. When the mounts had cooled off they’d be allowed to tank up. They spread their saddle blankets out in the grass to dry. Then they
flopped on their bellies and dunked their heads in the cool, bracing water. Fargo spat out the first mouthful before drinking deeply.

“I druther have a bottle of rye and a jolt glass,” Buckshot declared as he pushed back up on his feet and clapped his cavalry hat back on. “Been too damn long since we was on a carouse, Skye. ’Member that saloon brawl down in San Antone? You caught some riverboat gambler crimping his cards and thrashed him six ways to Sunday.”

Fargo chuckled as he slid the Arkansas toothpick from its boot sheath and moved several yards down the bank, squatting on his heels.

“Yeah, and then you cold-cocked that sheriff’s deputy when he tried to break it up. Got us a twenty-five-dollar fine and three days in the calaboose.”

Fargo saw a flash of silver, cocked his arm back, and threw his toothpick in a fast overhand toss. When he retrieved it, a good-sized trout came up with it.

“There’s breakfast,” Buckshot said. “Damn, you’re some pumpkins with that blade.”

Before the last daylight faded the two men spread their canvas ground sheets, then their blankets, using their saddles for pillows. Knowing mosquitoes would soon plague them, they placed their oilskin slickers close to hand to pull over their heads.

They supped on jerky and Fargo’s last airtight of peaches, sharing the sweet syrup.

“You and that damn hog-bristle brush,” Buckshot carped when Fargo started in on his teeth. “I don’t trust a man with pretty teeth.”

“Maybe that’s because the few you got left are the color of molasses,” Fargo retorted.

“I expect them nice pie-biters draw the gals to you. That and all them fool ink-slingers puffing you up big in the crapsheets. Dead broke and famous—that’s you, Fargo.”

“Not famous,” Fargo countered. “I’ve got a reputation. A famous man gets backslapped and stood to drinks. A man with a reputation gets shot at from dark corners.”

“Why, that’s so, ain’t it? I never knowed a man to get
more lead chucked at him than you do. But there’s no denying that pretty gals want you under their petticoats.”

Buckshot cast a tragic sigh, and Fargo knew what was coming.

“You know, chum, a man can cut a new wick out of his long johns. He can repair a bridle with a fringe from his buckskins. He can even plug up a bullet hole with flour or gunpowder. But there just ain’t no substitute for pussy. Yessir, the old crack of doom. Been too damn long since I done the function at the junction.”

“Caulk up,” Fargo snapped. “I’m horny as a brass band in New Orleans, and I don’t need all your damn reminders.”

“I can’t help it. See, I need more cunny than most men does. I’m what you call concu—concu—concupisser or somethin’ like that. Means I got to be fuckin’ all the time, y’unnerstan’? It’s been proved by them as knows.”

Fargo rose up on one elbow, curious in spite of himself. “What the hell are you flapping your gums about now?”

“Down in El Paso I had my skull read by a bumpologist. They can tell all about a man just by feeling his skull and making up a chart of it.”

“I don’t have to touch your skull to know you’re a knothead. Now pipe down and let me sleep.”

For a few peaceful minutes Buckshot was silent. Fargo felt his saddle-sore muscles relaxing as the hum of cicadas rose and fell in a monotonous cadence. The birds had not yet settled in for the night and Fargo heard the harsh calls of willets and grebes and hawks, the softer warbling of orioles and thrushes and purple finches. The steady chuckle of the creek lulled him and his eyelids began to feel weighted down with coins.

Buckshot’s tobacco-roughened voice jarred him back to awareness.

“Damn it, Skye, I been stewing on it. When the frontier goes this nation will turn flabby and old maidish. A great nation—why, it
needs
a frontier. A man has got to dream and wonder about what he’ll find over the next ridge. When it’s all mapped and fenced—why, pah! What will our tads in short pants dream of being—barbers’ clerks and Philadelphia lawyers?”

This was a rare moment of somber reflection for Buckshot, and Fargo listened attentively. Buckshot went on. “Lookit how it is over in England and them old countries with kings and such—no room to swing a cat in, and a man can’t even fart without every mother’s son smelling it. I’m glad me and you was here for the shining times, but it puts a pang behind my pump to see how fast the old ways is being stampeded.”

“It’s not over yet, old son,” Fargo replied. “Not by a jugful. True, men always eventually foul their nests. But the American West is a mighty
big
nest. I’ll wager that even a hundred years from now plenty of it will still be mostly like it is today. Names like Caleb Green and Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett will still be writ large. The mountains and rivers will endure. Men will grow soft, but they won’t forget what they once were—not too soon, anyhow. England still has Robin Hood and that ancient king what’s-his-name, the one that killed the dragon. There’s King Arthur and all his knights. Our American boys won’t stop dreaming about the old heroes.”

BOOK: Hangtown Hellcat
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