Authors: Jon Sharpe
Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns
Jugs wasn't at the Tumbleweed. The bartender told Fargo she hadn't shown up for work, and mentioned how she'd never done that before. Yes, the barman had sent someone to her room, but she wasn't there.
Fargo sat in on a poker game. Despite the stupid limit, over the next hour he added eleven dollars to his poke.
Jugs still hadn't shown up.
Fargo claimed a corner chair and pondered. Come daybreak, he planned to have the Ovaro and a horse for Carmody Wells hid in an alley near the barracks. When the deputies came to wake the prisoners for another day of forced labor, they were in for a surprise. He'd take the keys at gunpoint, free those poor bastards and the women, help Carmody on the horse, and get the hell out of Fairplay.
It sounded simple enough. But all sorts of things could go wrong. The worst would be if Marshal Mako took part. He'd seen Mako draw. The man was greased lightning.
Fargo realized he might be making a fool of himself. He hardly knew Carmody Wells. But he'd be damned if he'd just ride off and leave her to be pistol-whipped and suffer whatever other abuse the lawmen heaped on her.
What he'd like to doâwhat he'd
like to doâwas beat Horatio Stoddard to a pulp. The mayor was the cause of all this. Him and his high-handed ways. Imposing laws that no other town in Texas would stand for.
That said something about the people of Fairplay. It wasn't right to call them “people.”
They were sheep. They'd rather be lorded over than stand up for themselves. They had no gumption. No grit. That, and they actually liked being told what to do so they could go about their little lives in peace.
They'd rather be controlled than live as free men and women.
Fargo had never seen the like. Not to this degree. Not west of the Mississippi River.
Back east, there were towns galore where no one was allowed to wear a gun and gambling was outlawed and ladies of the night weren't allowed to parade their wares.
Things that, to Fargo, made life worth living.
The chiming of a clock on a shelf behind the bar brought him out of himself. It was ten o'clock. Early for him to turn in, but he had a busy day tomorrow.
The night air felt good as he strolled to Miss Emily's boardinghouse. He was surprised when the front door opened as he reached for it and Miss Emily stood there with the most peculiar smile.
“Look who it is,” she said.
“I'd like the same room for another night,” Fargo said.
“Would you, now?”
“Can I or can't I?”
“By all means. But I can't say I'll be sorry to see you go. You're rude, for one thing. For another, it's those eyes of yours.”
“My eyes?” Fargo didn't understand.
“They look down on us. As if you're better than we are.”
Fargo tried to remember if he'd ever looked at her that way.
“You ride in here with your smug airs and go around doing as you please.”
“Our laws are precious to us. They preserve the peace, and that's what counts.”
“Can I go to the room or do you aim to blather me to death?”
Miss Emily reddened. “You think we're stupid, but we're not. You'll find that out.”
“I won't be sticking around that long.”
Her peculiar smile returned. “Is that a fact?” Miss Emily tittered and put her back to a wall so he could walk past. “Have a good rest,” she said sweetly.
Damned biddy, Fargo thought. He made sure to bolt his door so she couldn't poke her head in. He took off his hat and set it on the dresser and stretched out fully clothed on the bed, his boots over the end board so his spurs didn't tear the quilt. He wouldn't have time in the morning to wash up and dress.
He stifled a yawn.
Closing his eyes, Fargo thought about the woman he was about to risk his hide to help. He thought about the look she'd given him, that desperate look of despair and appeal. It could be she had a beau somewhere. He might go to all this trouble for a peck on the cheek or a handshake, and off she'd ride.
Soon he drifted off. He couldn't have been asleep more than half an hour when there was a light knock on his door.
“Mr. Fargo?” Miss Emily called.
“I'm in bed,” Fargo said, annoyed that she had woke him.
“May I speak with you, please?”
“Tomorrow,” Fargo said. He'd had enough of her scorn for one night.
“It's important. It involves a young woman by the name of Jugs.”
That brought Fargo to his feet. He went to the door and threw it open. “What aboutâ” he began, and got not further.
Two revolver muzzles blossomed in his face. One was held by Deputy Gergan to the right of the doorway, the other by Deputy Clyde on the left.
In the middle, next to a beaming Miss Emily, stood Marshal Luther Mako.
“What's this?” Fargo demanded.
“As if you don't know,” Miss Emily said.
“We're obliged for you helping us,” Marshal Mako said to her. “You can go now.”
Miss Emily kept on beaming contemptuously at Fargo. “Now you'll get yours. You and your rude ways.”
“I said to go,” Marshal Mako said.
“Think you're better than most folks,” Miss Emily went on.
“For the last time,” Mako said sternly, and put a hand on her arm.
“I'll go. But it does my heart good to see him get his comeuppance.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Mako said, and started her down the hall. “Stay out of the way in case he resists arrest.”
“Arrest?” Fargo said.
Deputy Clyde snickered.
Fargo glared at him and Clyde withered and firmed his grip on his six-shooter.
As for Mako, he squared around and said in a formal tone, “Skye Fargo, by the authority invested in me by the town of Fairplay, I hereby take you into custody.”
“The hell you say,” Fargo said.
“How come you have to use those fancy words when you do it?” Deputy Gergan said to Mako.
“The mayor's doing,” the lawman replied. “Now shut up.”
“As for you,” Mako said to Fargo, “I'd advise you to come along quiet-like. You'll be taken to the jail and held there until the trial.”
“What's the charge?”
“Charges,” Marshal Mako corrected him.
“This should be good,” Fargo said.
The lawman recited them. “You violated town ordinance by sleeping with a prostitute. You violated another by carrying a whiskey bottle on a public street. You violated a third by making unwanted advances on another woman. Lewd conduct, the mayor calls that.”
“He would,” Fargo said. “Who was the woman?” As if he couldn't guess.
“You'll hear all about it at the trial.” Mako placed his hands on his Starr revolvers. “Step out here with your hands in front of you. Try anything, and we'll gun you.”
Fargo believed him. As much as he resented it, he did as they wanted, and inwardly winced when handcuffs were quickly placed on his wrists. “I'll remember this,” he said.
“You'll have more to remember real soon,” Marshal Mako said, taking him by the elbow.
“So this is how you do it,” Fargo said.
“And you can sleep at night?”
“I wouldn't goad me, were I you. I'm just doing my job.”
“Is that what you call having your nose buried up Stoddard's ass?”
Pain exploded in Fargo's head. His knees folded and he fell hard to the floor and for a few moments he thought he would pass out.
“I warned you,” Marshal Mako said, twirling a revolver into its holster. “I won't take guff.”
Both deputies laughed.
Gritting his teeth against the agony, Fargo growled, “Try that when I'm not in cuffs.”
“On your feet.” Marshal Mako grabbed hold of the back of his shirt, hauled him up, and pushed.
Fargo stumbled and almost fell. Getting his balance, he saw Miss Emily holding the front door open and grinning in delight.
“You got yours,” she said happily.
“You have a filthy tongue.”
“Don't worry. I'd never stick it up you.”
Miss Emily hissed and kicked him in the shin.
“None of that,” Marshal Mako said. He pushed Fargo harder. “Keep going. You know the way to the jail.”
“You'll get yours, too,” Fargo said.
“Was that a threat? We can add another charge if you want.”
“Go to hell.”
“Threatening a lawman it is, then.”
Fargo knew better, but he was so mad that the words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. “Does your mother know she gave birth to a son of a bitch?”
The second blow was harder than the first.
Fargo was vaguely aware of falling and then of being dragged by the arms by the deputies.
“He sure is a heavy cuss,” Deputy Clyde complained.
“He talks tough,” Deputy Gergan said, “but he won't after the mayor gets through with him.”
Struggling to stay conscious, Fargo felt his knees and boots scraping the street and then they were in the marshal's office and he was dumped on a wooden floor.
“Do we put him in the barracks with the rest?” Deputy Gergan asked.
“Not until after the trial,” Marshal Mako said. “For now we hold him in a cell.”
Fargo was dragged again, and flung, and heard a sound that most men dreaded: the loud metallic clang of a cell door slamming shut.
It took hours for Fargo's head to stop hurting. He lay on the cell bunk, stewing.
He'd intended to spirit Carmody Wells away, and that was all. Now it was different. Now it was personal.
He'd do a lot more than free her before he was through.
Marshal Mako left after half an hour. So did Deputy Clyde.
Gergan sat at a desk reading or dozing until he was relieved about midnight by Brock.
The big deputy closed and bolted the front door and came over to the cell.
“So you're the hombre who got on the mayor's bad side?”
“Is that a fact?” Fargo said.
“Mister, he plumb hates you.” Brock grinned and winked. “I hear tell it has something to do with that daughter of his taking a shine to you.”
“You're taking it awful calm,” Deputy Brock said. “Or don't you know he could sentence you to a year or more at hard labor for what you've done?”
“He thinks so,” Fargo said.
“You'd better get it through your head that Mayor Stoddard is the next thing to God around here. What he wants, he gets.”
“One of these days he'll get more than he bargained for.”
“Listen to you.” Brock laughed. “Haven't you seen the prisoners out in the barracks? You'll be there before too long, wearing a chain just like they do. That will take you down a peg.”
“What about my horse?” Fargo thought to ask.
“It's at the livery, I was told. It'll stay there until after the trial. Likely as not, the mayor will put it up for sale to defray the costs of your incarceration, as he likes to say. Or maybe he'll keep it for himself.”
“Over my dead body.”
“That can be arranged, too,” Deputy Brock said, and turned. “You go to court at nine in the morning, by the way.”
“That quick,” Fargo said.
“The mayor doesn't let grass grow under him when it comes to new workers.”
The deputy lumbered off.
Fargo continued to fume. Making sure that Brock wasn't watching, he slipped his hand into his boot and reassured himself the Arkansas toothpick was snug in its ankle sheath. They'd frisked him and taken his poke and bandanna, but they hadn't searched his boots.
Their carelessness would cost them.
For now, there was nothing Fargo could do except bubble with impatience as the night crawled on turtle's feet. His sleep was fitful. When a rooster crowed to herald the new dawn, he felt as if he'd barely slept a wink.
Marshal Mako showed up at six. The deputies went through the morning routine with the prisoners in the barracks, and the wagon departed.
Only then did Mako come over. “Your trial is today.”
“So I heard.”
“Act up in court and it will go hard for you,” Mako warned.
“It's going to go hard for somebody,” Fargo said.
“There you go again. That mouth of yours will get you five years if you're not careful.”
Deputy Clyde brought a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk, but Fargo didn't touch either.
“Any chance of getting some whiskey?”
Clyde tittered and shook his head in amusement. “You're a regular hoot.”
At a quarter to nine, Marshal Mako stepped to the gun rack and armed himself with a short-barreled shotgun. He passed out one to Gergan and one to Clyde.
It was Gergan who unlocked the cell.
“Nice and easy does it,” Marshal Mako said. “You don't want to give us an excuse.”
Fargo strode out. He wasn't in the best of moods. In addition to everything else, his head had a dull ache and his wrists were chafed from having the cuffs on all night. “Can't say much for your hospitality.”
“Flap your gums while you can,” Mako said. “Once you're sentenced, you don't get to speak unless you're spoken to.”
Fairplay didn't have a courthouse. Trials were conducted in a side room off the mayor's office.
Fargo was made to sit on a long benched flanked by the deputies. He was surprised to see Jugs there. He noticed a bruise on her left cheek and another on her chin. She avoided meeting his gaze.
A court clerk went through the usual rigmarole, and Mayor Horatio Stoddard, wearing a long robe and carrying a sheath of papers, grandly entered like a king about to hold court. He perched in his high seat and smiled down at them. Picking up a gavel, he rapped it several times while declaring, “Court is now in session. Let the proceedings commence.”
“Don't I get a lawyer?” Fargo asked.
About to consult his papers, Stoddard looked up in annoyance. “Eh? What was that? You're requesting the services of a counsel?”
“Why not?” Fargo said.
“Do you have the money to hire one?”
“Ask your tin star. He has my poke.”
Stoddard turned to the marshal. “Is this true, Marshal Mako?”
“No, Your Honor. We searched him when we arrested him. He didn't have a cent to his name.”
Fargo wondered what they were up to and found out when the mayor nodded as if he suspected as much and said, “We'll add vagrancy to the charges already lodged against him. That's good for another six months.”
“If I'm found guilty,” Fargo said.
“If you'reâ?” Stoddard said, and smothered a laugh. “Yes, indeed. We must adhere to the letter of the law, mustn't we?”
“You wouldn't know the letter of the law,” Fargo said, “if it bit you on the ass.”
Deputy Gergan hiked his shotgun as if to bash Fargo in the face.
“No!” Stoddard barked. “No violence, if you please.” Placing his hands flat, he bent forward. “I will only warn the defendant this once. Proper decorum will be followed at all times.”
“I can't say âass'?” Fargo said.
“You may not insult the integrity of this court in any manner,” Stoddard replied.
“It doesn't have any.”
Stoddard sat back and scowled. “Enough. If the defendant persists, you are to gag him, Marshal Mako. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” the lawman answered.
“Now, then. Where were we?” Stoddard said.
“Vagrancy,” Fargo reminded him.
“Ah yes.” Stoddard consulted a paper. “You are hereby charged with that, as well as threatening an officer of the law, consorting in proscribed carnal activities, and obstruction of justice. How does the defendant plead?”
“Proscribed?” Fargo said.
“That means illegal,” Stoddard said.
“It's against the law to fuck?”
Deputy Clyde laughed and drew a glare from Marshal Mako.
“It's against the law to solicit the services of a prostitute,” Stoddard said.
“I didn't solicit anything,” Fargo said. “She wanted to hump me.”
“Oh, really?” Stoddard turned toward Jugs. “Miss Bedelia Cavendish, will you rise, please, and step to the witness stand, where the bailiff will swear you in?”
Jugs, her chin bowed, obeyed.
Fargo could imagine what was coming. This bunch didn't miss a trick.
“Now, then,” Stoddard began, “you just heard the defendant. I will ask you point-blank. Is he telling the truth?”
Jugs glanced nervously at Marshal Mako, then said so quietly it was hard to hear her, “No, Your Honor.”
“Tell us in your own words what occurred.”
Jugs swallowed and had to try twice before she got out, “I was working at the Tumbleweed when”âshe stopped and trembledâ“when this gentleman came up to me and asked me if I'd go to bed with him for, uh, forty dollars.”
“Aha!” Stoddard exclaimed. “And did you agree?”
Jugs glanced at Mako again. “To my shame, Your Honor, I did.”
“Very well. That will be all.”
“I can go?”
“The marshal has informed me that you agreed to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution. So yes, you're free to depart.”
Jugs gave Fargo a look that said she was sorry more eloquently than if she'd said it out loud. With a swish of her dress, she whisked out of there.
“As the defendant just heard,” Stoddard said, “his lie has been exposed.”
“It's her word against mine,” Fargo said.
“This court prefers to believe her.”
Stoddard picked up the gavel. “Have you anything more to say before sentence is pronounced?”
Fargo sat up. “That's it?”
“We believe in a speedy trial.”
“I don't get to take the stand? Or call witnesses of my own?”
“What good would that do? We've heard the prostitute and we have Marshal Mako's written testimony. That's all this court requires.”
“You mealymouthed sack of shit.”
Horatio Stoddard became the same color as a beet. With a sharp gesture, he growled, “I've listened to enough. Marshal, gag the prisoner.”
“Before you do,” Fargo quickly said, “you'd better decide what to do about the army.”
Mako paused in the act of taking a crumpled handkerchief from a vest pocket, while Stoddard scrunched his face in confusion.
“The army,” Fargo repeated.
“What can they possibly have to do with this?”
Fargo touched his cuffed hands to his chest. “In case no one told you, I scout for a living.”
“So I'm due at Fort Bowie by the end of the month.”
“So they knew I was coming this way. When I don't show up”âFargo shruggedâ“could be they'll send someone to look for me.”
It was called grasping at a straw. He waited to see what effect his bald-faced lie would have.