Authors: Jon Sharpe
Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns
Horatio Stoddard straightened and sat back. His eyebrows tried to meet over his nose. “You expect the court to believe that?”
Fargo shrugged and said as casually as he could, “If you can't tell what I do for a living, you're dumber than a stump.”
Marshal Mako cleared his throat. “He did say he was a scout when we first met.”
“He sure looks like one,” Deputy Gergan threw in.
“Daniel Boones,” Deputy Clyde added. “Why can't they wear clothes like everybody else?”
Stoddard drummed his fingers and crooked one at the marshal. “A word, if you please. Approach the bench.”
Fargo tried to hear what they said, but they whispered. Stoddard appeared agitated. When Marshal Mako came back he didn't look happy.
“There will be a delay in sentencing,” Stoddard announced, “while this issue of the army is resolved. The defendant will be held in jail until such time as the court deems otherwise.”
“On your feet,” Mako said to Fargo. “Boys, cover him.”
Fargo was elated. He'd bought some time. But how much? As they marched him from the municipal building, he asked, “What did he mean by resolved?”
“The mayor knows a few people in high places,” Marshal Mako said. “He's going to check on your story. He's writing a letter to a colonel he knows. We should hear back in a couple of weeks, maybe a little longer.”
“In the meantime I rot behind bars?”
“I'll find ways to keep you busy,” Mako said.
Fargo spotted Jugs. She was across the street, staring sadly. He smiled to show there were no hard feelings, but he couldn't tell if she noticed.
“Just so you know,” Marshal Mako said. “If it turns out you're lying, it'll add another six months to your sentence.”
“Is that all?”
The lawman looked at him. “I've worn a tin star long enough, I can feel it in my bones when someone is trouble. And you're as much trouble as they come.”
“Why, you sweet-talking devil, you.”
Mako let that pass and said, “Which is why I'm taking extra precautions. Those cuffs stay on, so get used to them. And I'll make it plain to my deputies that if you give them any guff, I won't mind a bit if they kick your teeth down your throat.”
“So much for the sweet talk.”
“I don't like your kind,” Marshal Mako said coldly. “Not even a little bit.”
“What kind is that? Scouts?”
“It's not what you do. It's you. You're one of those who thinks he can do as he damn well pleases, and the rest of the world be damned.”
“Last I heard,” Fargo said, “this is a free country.”
“A country with laws. Laws that you reckon aren't good enough for you to follow.”
“When the law says a man can't spit without being arrested,” Fargo said, “that's a pretty damn dumb law.”
“You just made my point. It's not what a law says. It's the fact that it's a law. I'm paid to make sure folks abide by them, whether they want to abide by them or not.”
“That mayor and you make a good pair,” Fargo said. “It's too bad you don't have your own country to run.”
“This town will do,” Mako said. “And before I forget, a word to the wise. If you try to escape, we'll shoot you dead. Army or no army.”
“Escape is the furthest thing from my mind.”
On that note Fargo was shoved back into his cell and the door clanged shut once again.
Over the next couple of days he paid close attention to their routine.
Mako was only there during the day. At night the deputies worked shifts. Brock had the first, Gergan the second, Clyde the last. Each morning the prisoners were roused and herded into the prison wagon for another day's work.
Twice a day they brought Fargo food. They always slid the plate through a wide slot in the bars rather than open the door.
All in all, it was a well-run jail.
But there was a weak spot.
The third night, Gergan propped his boots on the desk, folded his arms and pulled his hat low, and dozed off.
Hiking his pant leg, Fargo palmed the Arkansas toothpick. They had made light of his buckskins, but buckskins had one thing city-bought clothes didn't: whangs. His were six inches long on his shirt. He cut ten of them off, replaced the knife in his boot, and tied the whangs together, end to end.
Moving to the bars, he crouched. He fashioned a loop and positioned it on the floor directly under the food slot. Drawing the end inside, he tied it to the bottom of a bar.
Returning to the bunk, he lay with his back to the room.
Deputy Clyde showed up to relieve Gergan. No sooner was Gergan out the door than Clyde sat down at the desk and propped his boots as Gergan had done.
Fargo got up and went close to the bars. But not too close. “Deputy,” he called out.
Clyde raised his head. “What do
want?” he asked suspiciously.
“Some water,” Fargo said. “My throat's dry.”
“One glass,” Fargo said, “and you can take your usual nap.”
“I'll take it anyway. And you can wait until breakfast.”
“Would you do it for a dollar?”
“Nice try,” Clyde said, “but the marshal took your poke.”
“I had a loose dollar in my pocket,” Fargo said.
Clyde showed interest. Deputies didn't make a lot of money. “I give you the glass, you shut the hell up and let me sleep?”
“That's the deal.”
Reluctantly Clyde stood and went to the water pitcher. He filled a glass and brought it over, his other hand on his six-gun. “No tricks.”
“All I want is a drink,” Fargo said. And to get the hell out of that cage.
“Not that there's much you can do,” Clyde said.
Fargo held his cuffed wrists out. “Isn't that the truth?”
Deputy Clyde stopped in front of the slot. In the dim light from the single lamp, he didn't spot the loop on the floor even though his left foot was partly in it. “Here,” he said, and passed the glass through.
“I'm obliged,” Fargo said as he stepped up and took it in both hands. He raised it to his mouth but paused when Clyde turned. “Shouldn't you take the glass with you?”
“I might break it and try to cut one of you with the broken glass.”
“That would be a damn fool stunt,” Deputy Clyde said, but he turned back. “Hurry up and drink and give it to me.”
His left foot was in the middle of the loop.
Fargo drank half the glass in two gulps and held it to the slot.
“That's all you wanted?” Clyde reached to take it from him. “And where's that dollar you promised? You'd better not have been lying.”
“Me lie?” Fargo said, and streaked his hands to the whang cord. Grabbing it, he gave a powerful jerk; the loop slid up around Clyde's ankle and fastened tight.
“What the hell?” Clyde blurted.
Fargo wrenched, slamming Clyde's leg against the bars. Swearing, Clyde let go of the glass and clawed for his six-shooter. His face was near the bars.
Quick as thought, Fargo thrust his hand through the slot. As hard as he could, he drove his rigid fingers into Clyde's neck. Once, twice, and again.
Clyde cried out. His eyelids fluttered. He tried to pull his leg away and couldn't. He twisted, which put his holster close to the slot.
A flick of Fargo's fingers, and the deputy's Remington was his. Cocking it, he growled, “Try to run and I'll splatter your guts.”
Clyde groped his empty holster. Sagging against the cell, he groaned.
Fargo thrust the revolver's barrel into his. “Did you hear me?”
“Run?” Clyde gasped, a hand to his neck. “I can't hardly stand.”
Fargo glanced past him at a peg on the wall. On it hung a large brass ring with the keys. “You're going to fetch the key and let me out.”
Sucking in deep breaths, Clyde said, “You'll get ten years for this.”
“You won't live ten minutes if you don't do as I tell you.”
“Go easy on that trigger. I have no hankering to die.”
Fargo told him to free his leg from the loop.
Still wobbly, Clyde had to try several times and nearly fell, but he managed to slide it off. “Clever,” he said. “I never would've thought of this.”
“Get the keys,” Fargo commanded. “Try to runâ”
“I know, I know,” Clyde said. He staggered to the peg and brought the ring over. The first key he inserted didn't work.
“I can't hardly think,” Clyde complained. “It's a wonder you didn't kill me.”
“The night's not over yet.”
Clyde looked at him in new fear. “Hold on, now. I'm doing what you want, ain't I?”
“Get the goddamn door open.”
Working faster, Clyde succeeded. “There.” He pulled the door open, and groaned. “I don't feel so good.”
“Inside,” Fargo said. Not content to wait, he took hold of the scruff of Clyde's neck and pushed him.
Clyde stumbled and fell to one knee. Easing onto the bunk, he cradled his head and said through his fingers, “There's nowhere you can run that the marshal won't find you. He'll have circulars made and send them all over Texas.”
“Who said anything about running?” Fargo closed the cell door and went to the front window. Moving the shade, he peered out.
The street was as empty as a cemetery.
Fargo made sure the front door was bolted, then moved toward the back.
“Hold on,” Deputy Clyde said. “What in God's name are you fixing to do?”
“Raise hell,” Fargo said.
It was easy to tell which key to use on the padlock on the barracks door; it was bigger than all the rest. Fargo dropped the padlock to the dirt and picked up the lamp he had set down while he opened it.
Inside was dark as pitch. As the light spread, it revealed the sleeping forms of the prisoners. It was a hot night and many hadn't bothered pulling their single blanket up. They were a haggard bunch. The hard labor and bad food had taken a toll.
Fargo stepped to a lantern on a peg and set to lighting it.
Some of the men stirred. They mumbled, blinked, shifted. Chains rattled and clanked.
One man squinted and raised a hand in front of his eyes to protect them from the glare. “What's goin' on?” he croaked.
Another sat up and looked about in confusion. “It can't be morning yet.”
Fargo raised both the lamp and the lantern over his head. The light reached clear to the partition that separated the men from the women. “Wake up. All of you. You're getting out of here.”
More of them woke, some mumbling and grumbling.
“Somethin' is goin' on!” the first man hollered. “They're up to somethin' new.”
Fargo waited for them to rouse. Dawn wasn't for three hours or so, more than enough time for what he had in mind. “Keep it down,” he cautioned. “You don't want to make a ruckus that will bring the marshal.”
A grizzled apparition bent toward him. “Aren't you one of his deputies?”
“I sure as hell am not,” Fargo declared. “I'm here to free you.”
Stunned expressions spread like wildfire.
“What did you say?” the grizzled man asked. “I must not have heard right.”
“I'm here to free you,” Fargo repeated.
All of them were up and staring at him in surprise, disbelief, and hope.
“How's that again?” a prisoner farther back said. “Did you say free us?”
“Is this some sort of trick?” another asked.
Fargo moved down the aisle between the bunks until he was midway. “Listen close. I'm not with the marshal. I was in jail. I broke out. Now I aim to break all of you out.”
“You're serious?” a scarecrow bleated.
“God in heaven!” another exclaimed.
“I have the keys,” Fargo said, and gave the ring a shake. “I'll free a couple of you and they can free the rest and we'll get the hell out of here.”
serious?” the scarecrow said, and his eyes filled with tears.
“If Mako catches us, him and his deputies will shoot us down like dogs,” another man mentioned fearfully.
“They're nowhere around,” Fargo assured them. “Now, are you with me or not?”
Their initial shock was fading. A number of them swapped glances and nodded and then one man let out with, “Hell yes, we're with you.” Another yipped for joy.
“Quiet down, damn it!” Fargo cut their elation short. “Do you want to wake half the town?”
Silence fell, and many looked anxiously at the front door.
“That's better,” Fargo said. He set down the lamp and moved to the partition. “Ladies first. Then I'll be back to free you. Be ready.”
All three of the females were up: Carmody Wells, the young one with freckles, and the woman who had to be in her fifties.
“You heard?” Fargo said as he stepped to Carmody's bunk. She stared as if she couldn't believe her eyes.
“You came for me.”
“And these others.”
“You came for me,” she said again. “Why? Most men wouldn't have bothered.”
“Let's just say,” Fargo remarked as he bent to the metal band around her ankle, “I don't much care for sons of bitches who beat on women.”
“You're really here to free us?” the freckled one said. She wasn't much past twenty, with brunette hair clipped short below her ears. It lent her a pixie quality enhanced by her big green eyes.
“This is Alice Thorn,” Carmody introduced her. “The other lady is Sarabeth.”
Fargo tried a key, but it didn't work.
The older woman had her hands to her throat. “I don't know about this. I truly don't.”
“Sara?” Carmody said.
“I only have a few months left on my sentence,” Sarabeth said. “If we escape and they catch usâ” She shuddered.
“They won't catch you,” Fargo said as he tried a second key.
“You don't know that,” Sarabeth said. “The marshal will get up a posse.”
The clamp opened, revealing discolored flesh and red lines where the band had chafed and bitten into Carmody's flesh.
“Thank you,” Carmody said softly.
Working quickly, Fargo freed the other two. Alice Thorn jumped up and rubbed her ankle, but Sarabeth slid back on her bed and shook her head.
“No, sir. I'm not going. I won't have time added. I couldn't take it.”
“Sara,” Carmody said. “Please.”
“No, I say.”
Fargo had no time for this. “Talk her into it if you can while I free the men.” Hurrying out, he found them eagerly perched on the ends of their bunks. Some held their chains and shook them in impatience.
“Hurry up, mister.”
“We want the hell out of here.”
“Do we ever!”
The same key that had freed the women worked for the men. Fargo let loose two and gave them the ring. “Do the others.”
“Lickety-split,” one replied.
Fargo went to the front door and stepped outside. He listened but heard only the sigh of the wind and the mew of a cat. Not a single light glowed anywhere. The good people of Fairplay were tucked in their beds. He hoped to hell they stayed there.
A sound drew him to the jail. He peered in and discovered that Deputy Clyde had removed his belt and was trying to jimmy the cell door lock with the prong. Quietly slipping in, Fargo was almost to the cell before Clyde noticed him and sprang back.
“I wasn't doing anything!” Clyde yelped, and tried to hide the belt behind his leg.
Fargo held out his hand. “Hand it over.”
“Hand what over?” Clyde asked innocently.
Placing his hand on the Remington, Fargo asked, “How stupid are you?”
“Damn it,” Clyde said. But he slid the buckle between the bars. “It wasn't working anyhow.”
Fargo dropped the belt on the desk. He checked at the front window; the street was still deserted. Satisfied, he went out the back again, saying, “Make any noise and you'll regret it.”
“Mister,” Deputy Clyde replied, “the only one who will regret this is you.”
A few prisoners were still shackled, but they wouldn't be for long. The rest of the men had gathered near the door.
Carmody and Alice were there, too, but not Sarabeth.
“The coast is still clear,” Fargo informed them. “In twenty minutes we'll be on our way out of town.”
“I sure hope so,” one said. “I've had my fill of this hellhole.”
“What's your handle?”
“Franklyn Immelt. Just call me Frank.”
“Have them line up,” Fargo directed. “When I give the word, we're heading for the stable. No talking. No yelling. Savvy?”
Frank bobbed his head. “We'll be as quiet as mice.”
The last man of them was being freed.
Fargo turned in the doorway, and a warm hand touched his neck.
“I want to thank you again,” Carmody Wells said softly.
“Later would be better.”
“There might not be a chance,” Carmody said. “I want you to know that whatever else happens, I'm sticking with you.”
Fargo had them extinguish the lamp and the lantern. He told them that if they couldn't see that well, to hold the hand of the person in front. “Whatever you do, don't fall behind.”
“Don't worry about that,” Frank said.
“We want out of here more than you can imagine,” another prisoner declared.
Carmody put her lips near to Fargo's ear. “Did you say something about holding hands?” she said, and clasped his.
Fargo led the way. They went around the jail to a side street and along it toward the stable. They had several blocks to cover. He stuck to the darkest patches and stopped at the slightest sounds.
They only had one block to go when the clomp of hooves caused Fargo freeze in place.
A rider was coming up the next street over.
Hunkering, Fargo pulled Carmody down beside him. The rest promptly dropped low, too.
“Who can it be?” Alice whispered.
“Quiet,” Fargo warned.
The thuds grew louder.
Fargo glimpsed a big man on a big horse heading in the direction of the jail. His gut tightened. The rider's size worried him. He'd only seen one person in Fairplay that big: Deputy Brock. Fargo had no idea what Brock was doing up and about so early. But if he was right, all hell would soon break loose.
Up and moving before the clomps faded, Fargo went twice as fast. He would run except the prisoners weren't in the best of shape.
The stable was shut for the night, the wide double doors barred.
Fargo told the others to stay put while he slipped around to the back. A couple of horses were in the corral and neither whinnied or stamped. He climbed over the rails and tried the rear door. It wasn't bolted.
Once inside, Fargo hesitated. Should he get his Colt from his saddlebags or let the others in?
He ran to the front, raised the heavy bar, and set it to one side.
No sooner had he pulled on one of the wide doors than a shot shattered the night.