Authors: Jon Sharpe
Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns
The prisoners were frozen in alarm, many with their heads cocked in the direction the shot came from: the marshal's office.
“What can it mean?” Frank gave voice to their fear.
There was another shot and then shouts. Deputy Brock began bellowing, “They've escaped! The prisoners have escaped!”
“He'll rouse the whole town!” a prisoner exclaimed.
“We have to hide!” another cried, and bolted into the darkness.
“Come back!” Fargo snapped, but the harm had been done. Their fear blossomed into panic. Seven or eight ran after the first, and a moment later almost all the rest scattered. He was left standing there with Carmody, Alice, and Frank.
“The jackasses,” the latter declared. “They can't get away on foot.”
“Inside,” Fargo urged, and after they quickly obeyed, he replaced the bar on the doors. “Pick a horse,” he said. “Any horse.”
No one argued that horse stealing was wrong or that it would add to their time behind bars if they were caught.
For Fargo's part, he raced to the Ovaro's stall. First he opened his saddlebag and hurriedly strapped on his Colt. Then he threw on his saddle blanket and saddle.
Somewhere in the distance more yells were raised. Another shot cracked and someone screamed.
Acutely conscious that each passing second increased their danger, Fargo got a bridle on and brought the stallion out.
The others were already on mounts. Only Carmody had bothered with a saddle.
“As soon as the door is open,” Fargo instructed, “we break to the right and ride like hell. Once we're out of town, we'll head west.”
“If we make it out,” Carmody said.
“Don't talk like that,” Alice Thorn said. “I'm never letting them get their hands on me again.”
Bedlam had been unleashed. Fairplay was in the grip of a spreading cacophony of cries and a riot of hammering feet.
Raising the heavy bar once more, Fargo moved it out of the way and dropped it. Not wasting a moment, he forked leather, kicked the door open, and with twin jabs of his spurs he was out into the night. The others were right behind him. He wheeled the Ovaro and was almost to an intersection when a man in a nightshirt huffed from a house waving a shotgun.
“Hold on there, you people! Stop or I'll by God shoot!”
The man made the mistake of running out in front of them.
Another jab of Fargo's spurs and the Ovaro slammed into him like a four-legged battering ram. Squawking, the man went flying one way and his shotgun another.
Fargo didn't look back to see how badly the man was hurt. He didn't give a damn.
In the next street half a dozen townsfolk were milling in confusion. Several pointed and a woman yelled and a six-gun flared.
Fargo answered in kind. He shot high, at the shoulder instead of the chest, and saw the man fold. His conscience pricked him for shooting someone who was only trying to stop a jailbreak.
He reminded himself that the good people of Fairplay didn't mind being lorded over by their high-handed mayor and vicious marshal, and deserved whatever happened to them.
The other townsfolk fled.
At the next junction Fargo reined left. It was six blocks yet to the outskirts. Once they were in the open, they stood a good chance of leaving pursuit far behind.
A rider galloped out of an alley, cutting them off. It was Deputy Gergan, a revolver in his hand. Gergan didn't order them to stop. He pointed his six-gun and snapped off a shot.
Fargo heard Frank cry out. Fargo fired, and Gergan was jolted half out of his saddle but clung on and raised his revolver to shoot again. Fargo sent a second slug into him. Then they were past and the deputy was upside down, hanging by a boot hooked in a stirrup.
“You killed him!” Carmody cried.
What the hell did she expect? Fargo wondered. It was root hog or die, and he was fond of breathing. He flew the last five blocks. No one tried to stop them. No lead was slung.
Once the last building was behind them, he slowed so the others could catch up. Carmody and Alice were fine, but Frank was doubled over and clinging to his saddle horn.
“How bad?” Fargo asked.
“Keep going. I can make it.”
Fargo took him at his word and rode on, the women on either side. They were as grim as death, aware of the stakes. Neither said a word.
More shots boomed back in town. More shouts added to the discord.
Fargo was glad to be out of there. He wouldn't put it past Stoddard and Mako to put out wanted circulars on them, and he'd deal with that later. Right now the important thing was to put as much distance as they could behind them.
They covered half a mile. A mile.
Pale starlight bathed the road and the high grass, lending the illusion of peace and serenity.
At a holler from Carmody, Fargo glanced over his shoulder and drew rein.
Frank had fallen behind. He was swaying and had one hand splayed to his chest. Almost too late, he reined up to keep from colliding with them.
“You let us think it wasn't that bad,” Fargo said.
Frank showed his teeth in a lighthearted grin. “I did, didn't I? I lied.” He laughed, or tried to, and froth spilled from his lips.
“Hell,” Fargo said. Dismounting, he reached up. “Lean on me,” he directed, and carefully eased the thin man down. “Can you stand?”
“No,” Frank said, and started to collapse. A stain darkened much of his shirt.
“Easy.” Fargo lowered him onto his back.
Carmody sank to her knees and clasped Frank's hand in both of hers. “No,” she said softly. “No, no, no. You treated me the nicest of just about anybody.”
“You're a good gal,” Frank said, wheezing. “They did you wrong like they did the rest of us. You should keep going before they catch up.”
Fargo stared back along the road. “No one is after us yet.”
“I won't leave you like this,” Carmody said to Frank “You've been a friend.”
Frank coughed, and more froth dribbled from his mouth. “I won't have them catch you on account of me. Get on your nag and light a shuck.”
“Not on your life.”
“Not on yours, either,” Frank said. “Listen to me, girl, before it's too late.”
It already was. Fargo spied four-legged stick figures far off. “I spoke too soon,” he said. “Here they come.”
“Go,” Frank said, and tried to push Carmody, but he was too weak.
“I'm not leaving and that's final.”
Frank looked up at Fargo. “Please, mister. Do what has to be done. They get their paws on her, it'll be twice as bad as before.”
Fargo put his hand on Carmody's arm. “He's right. We have to go.”
“They'll be here in a couple of minutes.”
“I don't care. He's my friend, damn it.”
Frank coughed and limply held out his arm to Fargo. “Please,” he pleaded.
“Hell,” Fargo said. Suddenly looping his arm around Carmody, he bodily lifted her, took a step, and swung her up and over her animal. In reflex, she spread her legs and grabbed the mane to keep from falling.
“No, I told you!”
“Go,” Frank said.
Fargo pointed at the riders. There were four of them, coming hard, raising a cloud a dust. “We don't have time for this.”
Carmody uttered a sob and tried to climb down, but Fargo wouldn't let her.
“Stay up there, damn you.”
“I won't leave him!”
Alice Thorn stepped over to Frank and raised her right leg. Before they could guess her intent, she stomped her foot down on Frank's throat. Frank gurgled and arched his back.
“No!” Carmody cried.
“What the hell?” Fargo said, and spun, but he couldn't reach Alice before she brought her foot down a second time. The
was as clear as anything.
Frank bucked, spewed blood, and was gone.
“Now we can go,” Alice Thorn said.
“Alice, damn you!” Carmody cried. Again she tried to dismount.
Fargo almost lost his hold on her, he was so shocked. Shoving her upright, he pointed at the body. “He's gone. There's nothing you can do.”
Carmody quaked and said with tears streaming down her cheeks, “Alice, how could you?”
The freckle-faced woman didn't answer. As calmly as if she were going on a Sunday ride, she climbed back on her bay and raised the reins. “I'm ready when you are.”
Stepping into the stirrups, Fargo checked on their pursuers. He reckoned they were a quarter mile off yet. “Fan the breeze,” he said, and when both women broke into a gallop, he did likewise.
For long minutes they raced. Here and there a low hill reared. They had gone another two miles or so when Fargo called another halt.
“Why are we stopping?” Alice demanded. “I can ride all night if I have to.”
“Your horse can't,” Fargo said, nodding at her winded animal. “We'll give them a breather.” Not that the Ovaro needed one. The stallion possessed exceptional stamina.
Alice gazed back. “I don't see them after us anymore.”
“They stopped at the body,” Fargo guessed. “It won't delay them long.” He paused. “Answer me something.”
“If I can.”
“That's easy,” Alice said. “He wasn't long for this world anyway. And he wanted us to go. You heard him.”
“Still,” Fargo said.
Carmody was in a pit of misery. “He was my friend. I'll never forgive you, Alice. Not ever.”
“We're alive,” Alice said. “We wouldn't be if we'd stuck with him.”
“That's awful cold,” Carmody criticized. “You killed him to save your hide.”
hides,” Alice corrected her. “And I'd do it again.”
Fargo would never have guessed she had it in her. She seemed so innocent, soÂ .Â .Â . sweet. “We need to ride, ladies.”
“You'll get no argument from me,” Alice said. To Carmody she said, “Your friend is dead. Get over it.” And she smacked her legs against her mount.
Fargo stayed at her side. They held to a trot for half a mile or more, until Fargo called out to Alice that she was pushing too hard.
“I don't care,” she hollered back. “It's not my horse.”
“You'll care if you ride it into the ground and Mako gets his hands on you.”
“All right, all right,” Alice said, slowing.
“She's something, that one,” Carmody remarked.
“How long did she have left on her sentence?” Fargo wondered.
“That long?” Fargo said, and joked, “What did she do? Kill someone?”
“Didn't I tell you?” Carmody said. “Little Alice murdered two men. And she admits it, too.”
It bothered him.
Fargo had taken it for granted that most of the people who ended up in Fairplay's “barracks” didn't deserve to be there. He figured that Stoddard and Mako had done to them as they did to him.
Now he wasn't so sure.
They couldn't trump up a pair of murders.
He realized he might have freed someone who should rightfully be behind bars.
And it bothered him.
They rode until noon. That there was no pursuit surprised him.
Their horses needed rest. So did they. The country was more wooded, and he called a halt in a grove of trees that bordered the road. With his back to an oak and the Henry across his lap, he watched the way they had come.
Carmody curled on her side and closed her eyes to nap.
As for freckled Alice Thorn, she hunkered, facing them, and idly plucked blades of grass.
“You don't want to sleep?” Fargo said.
She shook her head.
“It's been a rough night.”
“All we did was ride.”
“You killed a man,” Fargo reminded her.
“I put him out of his misery,” Alice said. “Same as I'd do for any critter.”
“Is that what you did to the two people I hear you murdered?”
“No,” Alice said, continuing to pluck grass. “They deserved it.”
“Mind if I ask how?”
“They tried to have their way with me.”
“Did you know them?”
Showing no emotion whatsoever, Alice said, “I'm from east Texas. I was on my way to San Antonio by stage. I have kin there. An aunt. The vermin I killed were on the stage, too. Louts, the pair of them. Kept ogling me. Kept making remarks. I told them to shut their mouths, but they wouldn't listen. One said as how they weren't afraid of a sweet little thing like me.” She uttered an icy laugh.
“Anyhow, we stopped in Fairplay,” Alice resumed. “It was evening. I got out to stretch my legs, and the louts went to a saloon. The stage was supposed to head out again in an hour. I was sitting out behind the stage office, minding my own business, when they jumped me. Tried to rip off my britches so they could have a poke.”
“And?” Fargo prompted.
“What do you think? I had a knife in my boot. I slit the one's throat.”
Again he had to prompt her. “The other one?”
“I stuck the blade in his balls. He flopped and shrieked until I cut off his pecker and stuffed it down his throat to shut him up.”
“Son of a bitch.”
“They both were. I didn't know it but the owner of the stage line saw me out the window and told the marshal. Next thing, Mako arrested me and took me before that no-account judge. I told them how it was self-defense, but that Stoddard fella said I was a menace to the community and sentenced me to eighteen years.”
Fargo remembered what Carmody had told him. “You've been a prisoner for three years?”
Alice nodded grimly. “Years I can never get back.”
“You're free now,” Fargo said.
“Thanks to you, and I'm obliged. But being free ain't enough.”
“How do you mean?”
She didn't reply, and Fargo didn't press it. He believed her account.
Anywhere else but Fairplay, she'd have been acquitted.
Taking off his hat, Fargo leaned back. Save for the chirping of some sparrows, the woods were quiet. The serenity and the heat got to him. He became drowsy. Twice he closed his eyes and snapped them open again. The third time, he dozed off.
He'd been up all night and it caught up to him. He slept so soundly that when a jay squawked, he sat up, startled, and looked around in alarm.
The first thing he noticed was that, judging by the sun, he'd slept a couple of hours. The second thing was that his Henry wasn't in his lap. The third thing was that Alice wasn't hunkered across from him.
Fargo glanced around and discovered something else. Alice's bay was missing, too. “What the hell?” he blurted. Jamming his hat on, he pushed to his feet. “Alice?” he called out.
Carmody stirred and rose on an elbow. Yawning, she said, “What's the ruckus about?”
“Your friend left and took my rifle with her.”
“That sounds like something Alice would do,” Carmody said, sitting up. “She's a tough one, that girl.”
“We're going after her,” Fargo said, and turned toward their horses.
“Didn't you hear me? She stole my rifle.”
“And she'll likely have it with her when we catch up,” Carmody said. “We rush off in this heat, we'll only have to stop again in a couple of hours. Why not rest until it cools down?”
All Fargo could think of was his rifle. “I don't want to lose her.”
“You won't,” Carmody said. “There's only the one road.” She patted the ground. “Have a seat. We can pass the time together.”
Her hooded eyes, and the playful manner in which she puckered her lips, gave him pause.
“Well?” Carmody teased. “Are you just going to stand there?”
Fargo checked to the east. There wasn't a rider in sight. Not even a tendril of dust. He looked at Carmody, at her loose hair and her full lips, at the swell of her shirt and the curve of her thighs. “You pick a damn strange time.”
“Do you know how long it's been? I'm not a nun or a schoolmarm.”
Fargo realized how little he knew about her. “What were you before Stoddard got hold of you?”
“I was a dove,” Carmody said. “I worked in saloons.”
“The hell you say.”
“I came to Fairplay with my best friend, Jugs. We were about broke, so we hired on at the Tumbleweed. Wasn't long before a clerk at the general store took a shine to me and wanted a tumble for money.” Carmody shook her head sadly. “I took him up on it and the marshal found out and arrested me.”
“How did he find out?”
“That damned clerk. He bragged to his friends and one of them went to Mako. It seems if you turn somebody in, you get paid.”
“That sounds like Stoddard's doing.”
“Let's forget about that bastard for a while.” Brazenly reaching up, Carmody cupped him. “Come on. You know you want to.”
“Damn it,” Fargo said, but he didn't move.
Carmody grinned and squeezed, and rubbed, and suddenly he was as hard as iron. “Oh my. Don't try to tell me you don't want to.”
Fargo couldn't answer for the lump in his throat. To hell with it, he thought, and sank to his knees.
“I must not look very pretty at the moment,” Carmody said, while with her other hand she plucked at her shirt. “Sorry about these clothes. They make the men wear stripes, but us women get store-bought duds.”
Fargo checked the road to town again. Nothing. A quick one wouldn't hurt, he reckoned, and cupped both her breasts.
Carmody stiffened and gasped and threw back her head. “Oh God. It's been so long.”
Fargo felt a shiver run through her. “You weren't joshing about wanting it.”
“You have no idea,” Carmody said.
The next instant her lips were fastened to his. She didn't so much kiss him as try to suck his mouth into hers.
Reaching behind her, Fargo cupped her bottom. In response she thrust her body at his and ground her nether mound against his hardness.
Fargo went to unbutton her shirt, but again she took the initiative and near frantically unfastened his gun belt so she could tug his buckskin shirt out and slide her hands underneath.
“Goodness,” she exclaimed. “You're all muscles.”
“The biggest is between my legs.”
“So I noticed.” Carmody grinned and renewed her stroking.
Covering her mouth with his, Fargo got her shirt open. Her breasts were warm and firm. When he pinched a nipple, she sank her teeth into his shoulder.
Fargo winced, and pinched her, hard. It set her hips to moving in circles and she panted like a bellows.
“God in heaven, how I want you,” Carmody husked into his ear.
Easing her down, Fargo stretched out and went to peel her pants off, but once again she couldn't wait. She pushed his hand away and did it herself.
The lust in her eyes, her full, pouty lips, the peaks of her tits, and those smooth, creamy legs below her thatch set his blood to burning.
His hands were everywhere, as were hers. She scratched. She bit. She incited him with pain as much as pleasure.
She liked it rough, and he obliged.
There came the moment when he was poised between her legs, his hands on her hips. She looked into his eyes and said throatily, “Do it.”
Fargo rammed up and in.
She cried out, clamped her legs around him, and rode him as if he were a bronc and she were his saddle.
They went at it furious and fast until their mutual explosion brought them half up off the ground.
“Oh!” Carmody gushed. “Oh! Oh! Oh!”
All Fargo did was growl.
Afterward, he lay on top of her, both of them wet with sweat, her breasts cushioning his chest, her lips pressed to his throat.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I needed that.”
Fargo was about to say that he did, too, when their idyllic moment was brought to an end by the boom of a gunshot.