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Authors: Jon Sharpe

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BOOK: Six-Gun Gallows
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“We know what may be in it, and that's danger enough. Even this far west we have some limitations—one of them is murdering a senator.”
Again Rafe stopped pacing. Unexpectedly, a confident smile touched his thin, expressive lips. “So far his clover has been deep. But the worm will turn, boys. Mark me on that.”
 
After sending the two dead border ruffians back to their outlaw camp, Fargo had decided against riding out onto the plains to make camp. He figured his enemy would have sentry outposts to prevent his escape, so he spent the rest of the night beside the creek, sleeping with his weapons.
At the first roseate flush of dawn, he tacked the Ovaro and bore west along the creek. Two miles outside of Sublette he rounded a bend and came within a few feet of riding over the McCallister brothers, both sound asleep.
“Up and on the line!” he called out. “Indians on the warpath!”
“Holy Hannah!” Dub cried out, struggling to get out from under his ratty blanket. “Nate, snap into it! We're under attack by redskins!”
“It's still too early, Ma,” Nate protested, still half asleep. “That hay field can wait. Le'me sleep longer.”
Fargo laughed so hard he almost rolled out of the saddle. “The two bravos from Ohio. If I was an Indian, you'd both be deader than dried herrings.”
As he grabbed the horn and swung down, however, Fargo realized the farm boys had picked a good spot. There were scrub oaks and big cottonwoods to screen the horses and plenty of hock-high bunch grass for grazing. The place also offered a clear field of vision in all directions.
Fargo led the Ovaro in among the trees where the two dobbins were grazing. He tethered the stallion and stripped the neck leather, but only loosened the girth. The pad and blanket were still dry, and given the number of enemies at such close quarters, Fargo wanted the saddle in place.
“Mr. Fargo,” Dub greeted him, fisting sleep from his eyes, “how'd your, ah, with Rosario go?”
“My, ah, went just fine, junior. You boys made good time.”
“We rode all night,” Nate chipped in, pulling on his near-worthless boots.
“That's no excuse for letting a man ride right up on your camp. You're in enemy territory now. Did you get your supplies home safe?”
“Yessir. Ma and Krissy was opening an airtight of peaches when we left. Krissy sends her love.”
“He don't need it, brother,” Dub said. “He's got that pretty faro dealer.”
“Keep it up, chucklehead,” Fargo warned, “and you'll be wearing your ass for a hat. You boys save any of that grub?”
“Just what we ate on the trail.”
“Split these up three ways,” Fargo said, handing him the two remaining sandwiches. “They chew like pine pitch and taste like sawdust. But at least it'll put some chuck in our bellies.”
When they'd finished eating, Fargo piled up all the weapons and ammo he'd confiscated the night before.
Dub examined one of the Remingtons. “How's come the front sight has been filed off?”
“So it won't snag coming out of the holster,” Fargo replied. “Men who fancy themselves quick-draw artists like to do that.”
“Pa told us never to bother with the front sight on a handgun—you just point and shoot.”
“I agree. Now lissenup, both of you. From now on, always keep a weather eye out for trouble. I killed two jayhawkers last night. At some—”
“How'd you kill the sons of bitches?” Nate cut in eagerly.
“I don't brag on killing. It was just something I had to do, so I did it. Now stick a sock in it and listen. At some point, once they locate us, they're going to rush us. If it was just me, I'd outrun them. My stallion can cross the horizon twice without breaking stride. But those—”
“Aww, c'mon, Mr. Fargo,” Nate cut in again, unable to contain himself. “How'd you kill them sage rats? Was it a walking show-down like in
Wild West Tales
?”
“Shut your face, numb nuts,” Dub chastised his brother.
“Kiss my ass.”
Dub leaped up to attack, but Fargo extended one leg and tripped him. “Save it for the jayhawkers, you damn fools. As I was about to say, those plow nags of yours won't go past a canter. Unless we get you some faster horses, our only chance is to outshoot the bastards. We've got three rifles and five handguns between us with plenty of ammo except for that pinfire I gave you, Nate.”
Fargo picked up the Cavalry carbine. “This is an excellent weapon with real stopping power. You load it by thumbing the cartridges through this trap in the butt plate. Holds seven shots. It's got one drawback, though—when it heats up too much, these copper-jacketed slugs tend to stick in the chamber instead of ejecting, and you have to pry the damn things out. So try not to rapid-fire it for too long.”
Fargo deftly disassembled the firing-bolt group and showed them how to clean it.
“How long, you think, before they find us?” Dub asked.
“Most of these border ruffian thugs,” Fargo replied, “couldn't locate their own asses at high noon in a hall of mirrors. But since there's no place else to hole up, they'll be riding the creek soon enough. I've got a plan to divert them for a while.”
Fargo quickly scaled one of the oaks and took a good squint around. So far he'd spotted no sign of trouble.
“This creek takes enough turns to make a cow cross-eyed,” he called down to the brothers. “That's good for us. Means we'll have plenty of warning before they're on us.”
“Damnation!” Dub said. “We forgot to tell you, Mr. Fargo. We passed three freighters yesterday. They gave us the news about some senator and general, I forget their names.”
Fargo hung from a branch and dropped down. “Senator Drummond and General Hoffman, right?”
“Yeah, that's them. You heard too, huh?”
“No. What happened?”
“Well,” Dub went on, savoring his importance as a man bearing news, “Cheyenne Indians attacked 'em. Killed 'em all. The senator, the general, and a military guard detail. They was found by a search party from the outpost at Two Buttes.”
“Cheyenne Indians,” Fargo repeated, his face thoughtful. “How'd they know that?”
“They found a Cheyenne lance.”
“A Cheyenne brave,” Fargo said, “works for months on his weapons. Any brave who leaves one on the battlefield is the butt of scorn, and Indian braves hate scorn.”
“Well, there was arrows, too,” Dub continued. “Sticking in the bodies. They all had crow-feather fle—flitch—”
“Fletching,” Fargo supplied.
“Yeah, that.”
“That ain't all,” Nate chimed in. “All the bodies was scalped, and some had their pizzles cut off and shoved into their mouths.”
By now Fargo looked skeptical. “Boys, I've been around Plains Indians since I was your age. That attack wasn't by Cheyennes—not likely, anyhow.”
“How's come?” Nate asked.
“Scalping is exaggerated in the crapsheets back east. Most tribes don't like it all that much—I've even watched a Sioux warrior puke while trying to do it. They learned it from the Spanish, and it's usually reserved for an especially hated enemy. And right now white men are still mostly a curiosity to the Indian. A Cheyenne would be more likely to demand tribute than to kill—it's a tribe with high regard for human life, even their enemy's.”
Fargo paused, trying to fit some pieces into the picture starting to form in his mind. “Still, all Indians are notional, and Cheyennes
could
have scalped them. But the mutilation of the bodies—that's more like Pawnees, Kiowas, or Comanches.”
“Then what about the lance and the arrows?” Dub asked.
“Easy to get at any trading post. Were the bodies bullet-shot, too?”
Dub nodded. “Some up to twenty times, the freighters said.”
“Then that tears it—it wasn't Cheyennes,” Fargo said with finality. “Very few of them have guns yet, and even if they did, they'd never waste ammo like that—it's too hard for an Indian to come by. White men staged that ‘Indian' massacre.”
“Christ! Why?”
Fargo shook his head. “Where do all lost years go? But I'll bet you a dollar to a doughnut it has something to do with a railroad. Drummond is—was—a big howler for the Kansas-Pacific Railroad. The Rock Island Line out of Illinois is their major competition.”
“But are you saying the railroad barons,” Dub asked, “would really murder a U.S. senator?”
Fargo shook his head. “They wouldn't do it nor even order it. But their big mistake is in hiring ‘agents' to clear the path for them. These agents sometimes act on their own, and the barons don't learn the details.”
“I forgot,” Dub added. “One soldier musta got away. Them freighters said there was twelve enlisted men, but only eleven bodies.”
“That tears it,” Fargo declared. “Boys, that bloody pouch in my saddlebag was given to the Quakers by a dying soldier. I still can't prove it, but I'm certain-sure now those jayhawkers pulled the massacres. And the mysterious topkick is a railroad agent who's got the ‘butternut guerrillas' on his payroll.”
“The filthy sons of bitches,” Dub said. “That means whatever's in that pouch could be real important, huh?”
“The way you say. And our murdering band somehow knows I've got it.”
“Maybe we'd best try and get it to a fort,” Nate suggested.
Fargo shook his head. “I've considered that. But I think we're safer staying around here, playing cat and mouse, than we are making a break for a fort.”
“Yeah,” Dub agreed. “Me and Nate ain't got the horses for it.”
“Which means I'd lose your valuable firepower. And even a fast horse gets tired on the open plains. I'd be like a nit trying to cross a billiards table while the balls are crashing around. And riding hard, with no chance for me to scout terrain ahead, there's a good chance my horse would pull up lame.”
“So we just wait?” Nate said.
“Won't be long,” Fargo promised him, “and then you'll be sorry the waiting is over.”
 
Fargo was right—the wait wasn't all that long.
Several hours passed, Fargo killing time by pulling out a greasy deck of playing cards and teaching the brothers the rudiments of poker.
“Goddamn but these flats is ugly,” Dub declared, gazing all around them. “Ma likes it, though.”
“Now that's unusual in a woman,” Fargo said. “It's women have the hardest time adjusting to a place without trees and such. I've heard of some to be driven insane by the wide-open spaces.”
“Ohio is pretty,” Dub said. “They got hills and trees and ponds everywhere. I wish Pa had never pulled up stakes.”
Fargo didn't agree that the Great Plains were ugly. Right now, a vast dome of blue sky met the far horizon neat as a lid, and a man could see clear into next week. Each time the wind kicked up, waves moved through the tall grass just like they did on the ocean.
“Ohio is nice country,” he agreed, “if you don't mind the way it's peopling up. But you can't judge grasslands by woodlands. Some men like redheads, some men like blondes.”
“And a few others,” Nate teased, “like 'em all.”
Fargo grinned. “Guilty as charged. And I feel the same way about land. Although I admit I wouldn't give you a plugged peso for the Salt Desert out in Mormon country. That place gets so hot a man's ass fries in the saddle. Death Valley is a heller, too. Your deal, Nate.”
While Nate shuffled the cards, Fargo again climbed up into the tree for a look around.
“Well, here's the fandango,” he called down. “Looks like a patrol of about ten jayhawkers are riding the creek real slow, looking for us.”
“Are they close?” Dub asked.
“No, they're about even with the trading post, maybe two miles away. But you know my philosophy.”
“Run to the guns,” they said in unison.

That's
the gait. Nate, hand me up my spyglasses, wouldja? Right saddle pocket.”
Taking care to avoid making reflections, Fargo studied the border ruffians. They moved slowly and methodically, searching every inch of the growth. He dwelled on a huge bear of a man whose hair was tied off in a knot behind him.
“The leader of this bunch is definitely Shanghai Webb,” Fargo reported to the brothers.
“You know him?” Dub said.
“Just the ugly sight of him. Saw him a few times in San Francisco. He was a leader of the Hounds, the local vigilante bunch. He earned his name there from conking men over the head and selling them to ship captains.”
“Think he's the big boss of this bunch?” Nate asked.
“Nah. He led his own gang of scalpers in the border country, and he's a ruthless bastard. But he ain't got the mentality of a mastermind. He's prob'ly the ramrod in the field, but there's a more cunning son of a buck behind the scenes. There's plenty of simoleans, too, and I'd wager it's railroad money.”
Fargo traversed the glasses until they focused on a crooked-nosed redhead with a patch over his left eye.
“Here's the roach named Moss,” he said. “And the Big Fifty is resting on his pommel. I'd wager he's the jasper that fired on us two days ago, gents. He's trouble—damn near split my melon at eight hundred yards.”
Fargo dropped out of the tree.
“We gonna charge 'em?” Dub asked.
“Look, you two,” Fargo said, “I guarantee you the time is coming when the three of us will bust caps side by side. But right now I've got a plan that requires just one experienced man—me. You boys just stockpile your guns and ammo and take up good positions just in case.”
BOOK: Six-Gun Gallows
9.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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