Authors: Jon Sharpe
Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns, #General
Buckshot was silent and Fargo figured maybe he was digesting all this. His next remark suggested otherwise.
“You know, Skye? Mayhap there’ll be quim at this outlaw camp—some soiled doves whose tits ain’t dropped yet. Why, we might—”
A menacing metallic click from Fargo’s bedroll—the unmistakable sound of his Colt going to full cock.
“Let’s grab some shut-eye,” Buckshot suggested hastily, and Fargo was still grinning as he tumbled over the threshold into sleep.
* * *
“Hell, Little Britches,” argued Butch McDade, “you’re the one always banging our ears about how we oughta show more initiative.”
you clear it with me,” replied Jenny “Little Britches” Lavoy. “I consider you two my lieutenants because you’re the best men in this bunch. But lieutenants act at the whim of their commanding officer. I assume you still agree that’s me?”
Jenny fell silent while McDade and Lupe Cruz, his favorite
partner in crime, raked hungry eyes over her across the crude deal table. She was shapely and petite, her thick coffee-colored hair pulled into a tight chignon at the nape of her slender white neck. Finely sculpted cheeks glowed like fall apples. Her navy blue dress with velvet cuffs made her look innocent as a school teacher—a deceptive image she deliberately cultivated.
“Why, hell yes, you’re the boss,” McDade finally answered from a throat suddenly constricted with lust. “We voted you mayor of Hangtown, didn’t we?”
“Yes, and I’m no fool, Butch. A rising tide must lift
the boats, and that’s why we all share in the profits of our various…enterprises. But this attack on the telegraph line was a dangerous mistake, and you should have discussed it with me.”
Jenny, Butch, and Lupe Cruz had met in a crude tent saloon aptly known as the Bucket of Blood. The place had a grim, masculine smell: sweat, leather, harsh tobacco, cheap 40-rod. The patrons were mostly mean, dirty men who looked out at the world from lidded eyes and surly faces—and now those eyes were intently focused on Jenny, the eyes of starving men staring at a table laid for a banquet. But the two imposing figures standing just behind Jenny’s chair—her “palace guard” as she called them—kept them from eating their fill.
“But you yourself complained about the damn telegraph going through,” McDade objected. He was a muscular and sandy-haired man with arrogant, trouble-seeking eyes and a cruel twist of mouth that kept him from being handsome. “You said it could spell the end of Hangtown.”
“I meant eventually, Butch—
. But your attack might have hastened our destruction.”
“That’s hogwash, Little Britches,” McDade snapped. Then his eyes rose to the two figures behind her chair and he softened his tone. “I mean, hell, they’re just a bunch of gutless wage slaves. ’Sides, me, Lupe, and Waldo done a first-rate job of confusing anybody trying to track us. And the way Hangtown is hid…hell,
ride past and don’t even spot it in this gulch. You got nothing to fret.”
Jenny smiled demurely, knowing how it worked on men.
“All that might be true—and then again it might not. According to bubbling hearsay, Butch, the scout for that work crew is Skye Fargo—otherwise known as the Trailsman.”
This revelation had the force of a hard slap to Butch’s face. He stared at Lupe. “Goddamn it, it all ciphers, ’
. That jasper on the black-and-white stallion, remember? The buckskins, the Henry rifle, the close-cropped beard…I had a gut hunch about him, but I didn’t place him with the name. It could be Fargo, all right, damn the luck.”
Now Cruz spoke up for the first time since the meeting began, and Jenny inwardly shuddered. Although she was never foolish enough to reveal the fact, he was the one man in this snake pit whom she truly feared. Rumored to be the best knife fighter in Mexico, he had the soulless eyes of a reptile—shifty, horse-trader’s eyes. The string of human ears around his neck resembled wrinkled pieces of old leather.
“This Fargo,” he told McDade, “
es un hombre muy peligroso.
A very dangerous man, uh?”
“And a first-rate tracker,” Butch said in a fretful tone. “The best. I’ll order a few of the snowbirds topside for sentry duty. Sure as shootin’ he’ll find this place if he decides to follow us.”
Jenny tossed back her head and laughed. “Well, I didn’t mean to start the Panic of ’Sixty-one, boys! You read too many half-dimers, Butch. Do you believe in Paul Bunyan and the boogeyman, too?”
McDade flushed. “Lupe’s right. Fargo
dangerous, and he ain’t no tall tale. I was south of here in a mining camp called Buckskin Joe when Fargo depopulated half the camp.”
These men in Hangtown were hard-bitten men who’d rather risk getting shot to doing honest work—just the kind Jenny needed now for the first phase in her ambitious plans. But controlling them was a delicate art, especially for a woman.
“What’s this?” she teased. “My best men going wobbly on me? All right, so Skye Fargo is a dangerous man.
man has his Achilles’ heel.”
Butch gave her a blank stare. “His what?”
“A weakness, Butch. A vulnerable spot that an adversary
can use to defeat him. And Fargo’s Achilles’ heel is women—especially beautiful women.”
“I hear he’s quite the hound,” Butch agreed.
“And wouldn’t you two agree that I qualify as a beautiful woman?”
Butch raked his eyes over her again, the tip of his tongue brushing his upper lip as if he could taste her. “Pretty as four aces.”
“Not pretty,” Lupe corrected him. “
Hermosa. Tan Hermosa que nunca.
The most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
She swallowed their praise effortlessly. “Thanks, gents. If Fargo is stupid enough to enter Hangtown, it’s his funeral. I’m dangerous, too. By the way—who is that ugly cur at the bar who’s been leering at me and touching himself every time my eyes drift that way?”
“Boots Winkler,” McDade replied. “One of the snowbirds you put on the payroll.”
“Is he pulling his freight?”
“Christ no. He’s a damn shirker and he ain’t got the mentality for the job. Drinks whiskey like he’s a pipe through the floor, and his tongue swings way too loose. He was so drunk during that last raid that he passed out on the ride back.”
“Isn’t he the one who likes to beat up on the soiled doves? In fact, isn’t he the main reason all four of ours escaped Hangtown?”
“He ain’t the only one, but he was the worst of the bunch, yeah. He cut up that last Mexer gal you hired just on account she laughed at his little tallywhacker.”
Jenny nodded as if filing that fact away. She had gone to great pains to provide sporting gals to bolster the men’s morale—and as a safety valve so their pent-up lust wouldn’t result in her rape. Winkler’s barbaric behavior could not be ignored.
Now her voice became all business. “All right, give me your report.”
“Well, that attack on the Fort Laramie paymaster went off without a hitch. We nabbed seven thousand in military script and didn’t kill no soldiers.”
“Good work,” Jenny praised. “I can get fifty cents on the dollar for it.”
“The Butterfield coach raid didn’t go quite as smooth. They had an ace shooter riding messenger and he dropped two of our boys before we doused his glims. We done for the driver, too.”
“Any gold on board?”
“Naw. But there was three sacks of mail, and we’re pulling cash out of some of the letters. A couple hunnert so far. Even better, we nabbed a well-to-do couple from Boston dressed in fancy feathers. They oughter fetch at least a couple thousand in ransom. They’re locked in the guardhouse with the others.”
Jenny nodded approval. “Fortune favors the bold, not the nickel chasers. But I
want those prisoners mistreated. If I hadn’t rescued Jasmine, your men would have raped her to death. Remember, damaged goods sell low.”
“Waldo Tate’s in charge of them, and he makes sure they eat good and none of the men get near the women.”
“Yes, Waldo—the third man in your little trio. I call him Nervous Nell. Where is the ratty little creature? Didn’t he go with you on this telegraph line strike?”
Butch nodded, rolling his head over his shoulder to indicate the other side of Hangtown’s only street, an expanse of muddy ruts. “When we got back he got a little too cozy with the Chinee pipe. We left him at the Temple to sleep it off. He is a mite on the nervous side, but he’s a cunning son of a bitch and a top hand with a rifle.”
While this conversation had gone forward, Butch was sizing up the largest of the two silent, formidable men who accompanied Jenny everywhere—even to the privy. He was simply called El Burro, a mestizo of mixed Mexican and South American Indian blood. He was a hulking brute of a man with a hard, flat, expressionless face and shoulders wide as a yoke. The mammoth ape towered several inches over McDade’s solid six-foot frame and wore a machete in a sisal scabbard. Two Colt Navy pistols were jammed behind his bright red sash.
“I’m just a mite curious, Little Britches,” Butch said. “Word has it that these two bodyguards of yours are…ahh…”
“They’re both eunuchs,” she supplied. “El Burro and Norton both.”
“That word’s too far north for me.”
“It means,” she explained bluntly, “that they have no balls. I believe the frontier word is ‘alterated.’ Their genitals, along with their tongues, were lopped off by Comanches just north of Laredo.”
Butch and Lupe exchanged an incredulous glance.
“Jesus Christ,” Butch said, downing an entire pony glass of whiskey.
“You might say they know how it’s done,” Jenny added. “They just can’t
it. But that’s not a problem with you, is it?” she added, batting her long, curving lashes at him.
“Oh, I got all my equipment,” he assured her eagerly, “and more than my share of original sin. And speaking on that…ain’t it been a while since you had you a man?”
“Too long,” Jenny assured him. “But I’m very selective. The itch is on me, but they say the best stallion is the one who neighs the loudest in the rut. And I want only the best stallion in Hangtown.”
“This stallion,” Lupe put in, his reptilian eyes giving Jenny the fantods, “must he be a
“Only the best stallion,” Jenny insisted. “Color or markings don’t matter.”
McDade’s mean lips pressed together tightly. “Well, there ain’t been too many women ever gave Butch McDade the go-by.”
have broken so many bed boards,” Lupe boasted, “that now I take my women on the ground like animals.”
“You two are the only candidates,” Jenny assured them. “But I warn you now—I have
unusual tastes in carnal matters. Tastes neither of you has ever encountered.”
The second part of this statement was true. But Jenny had to struggle to keep a straight face at the notion of ever giving her favors to either one of these common, lice-ridden mudsills. However, she had learned long ago that men could be most easily led around by their hard peckers, and her ambitious plans required ironclad control over men.
Now that she had both of them so excited they were forced to shift on their chairs, it was time to cool their ardor—and teach them the fear of God and the folly of ever touching her without permission. And with the soiled doves now gone, the rest of these horny outlaws needed to learn the same lesson.
Again she glanced at the drunken, feckless Boots Winkler. He saw her staring at him and once again crudely rubbed his crotch.
“Boots!” she called in a musical lilt. “Come over here.”
Every eye in the smoky, dingy hovel riveted on her. These men weren’t “citizens,” she reminded herself—they were easy-money lemmings, and the only thing they respected was brutal power. Boots staggered to the table, so corned he listed like a sinking ship.
“Somethin’ I can do for you, Little Britches?” he asked suggestively.
“I get the distinct impression that you don’t respect me.”
Boots was so inebriated that his face was bloated like an image in a warped mirror. “Hell, that’s putting it a mite strong. It’s just, you’re always carrying on like some railroad plutocrat. Seems to me you could divvy up the swag a little more generous like.”
“You don’t need money here, now do you? Nobody’s charging you for that liquor, and your eats are free. You should thank me for holding your wages so you don’t gamble them all away.”
“Well, Christ, I ain’t some snot-nosed kid. I can hang on to my legem pone.”
“Butch tells me you’re worthless. That you can’t even stay sober on the job. And it was you who treated the whores so rough they had to run away.”
Winkler grinned like a drunken ape. “Now see, that there’s a libel on me. They was just scairt of my big pecker.”
“Nobody gives you something for nothing, Boots, except your mother. And I’m not your mother.”
“’Course not,” Winkler japed, playing to the crowd. “I never wanted to fuck my mother.”
He expected a huge laugh, but the grogshop was as silent as a graveyard at midnight.
“You’ve reached the River Jordan,” Jenny said softly. “Hear the current calling your name?”
“You wanna spell that out plain?” he demanded belligerently.
“Certainly. I’ll make it very plain.”
She gave El Burro an almost imperceptible nod. What
happened next was so quick it was over before the rest even registered the fact. El Burro’s massive piston of an arm drove the heel of his palm at an angle up into Winkler’s nose, snapping the long bone with a noise like green wood splitting. The broken bone was driven straight back into his brain, buckling his knees instantly. He flopped to the crude plank floor, reduced first to a heap of twitching humanity and then seconds later a fresh corpse.
Blood spurted from his nostrils in two powerful streamers, slapping onto the floor with a sound like a horse pissing onto frozen ground. The noise was oddly obscene in the dead quiet of the saloon.
“Somebody please drag him out of here,” Jenny said in a pleasant voice. “Even though he’s already dead, string him up on the gallows with the others.”
She turned back to Butch and Lupe, offering them a coquettish smile. Both men’s faces were frozen masks. “Nerve up, boys. I would rather you hadn’t attacked that work crew up north, but don’t worry about Skye Fargo. Any crusading fool who enters Hangtown will soon be twisting in the wind with all the others who gave this place its name.”