Table of Contents
Deets realized they were both suspicious, and Mitt's hand was creeping toward his sidearm. Time to show his hole card, Deets decided.
“Well, Mitt,” he remarked casually, “you picked a lonely grave.”
It took less than two seconds to shuck out his Colt and spray Mitt's blood and brains all over the rocks behind him. The body flopped forward, toes scratching the dirt a few times. Deets swung the still-smoking muzzle toward Louise. She had frozen in place, still lifting the coffeepot off the flames. She was too shocked to scream, staring at her husband's body in horrified disbelief.
“Set that pot down, beauty,” he told her in a voice that brooked no defiance. “Then shuck out of them clothes. You're about to meet Skye Fargo in the flesh.”
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, November 2011
The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
Texas Lead Slingers,
the three hundred sixtieth volume in this series.
Copyright Â© Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2011 All rights reserved
ISBN : 978-1-101-55886-7
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Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.
The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.
Utah Territory, 1859â
where a ruthless master of disguise turns Fargo
into the most wanted man in the West.
“Gentlemen,” announced the young drummer from Pennsylvania, “there seems to be something a mite queer about this game.”
An ominous silence followed his remark. The other four poker players, including Skye Fargo, swiveled their heads to stare at him.
“No offense intended,” the salesman hastened to add.
“Well, plenty taken, you mouthy jackanapes,” growled Billy Williams, who was assisting Fargo on a scouting mission for the much-ballyhooed Pony Express, due to be launched next year. He scowled darkly and scraped his chair back to clear his gun hand.
“H'ar now!” cautioned Red Robinson from behind the crude plank bar. The burly, redheaded Irishman owned the only saloonâactually just a primitive grog shopâpermitted at Fort Bridger by the Mormon Council in Salt Lake City. “Stay your hand, Old Billy. This ain't Laredo. These soldiers in the Mormon Battalion are no boys to mess with. The last gentile who cracked a cap in this puke-hole spent three months in the stockade.”
“Come down off your hind legs, Old Billy,” Fargo threw in, strong white teeth flashing through his neatly cropped beard as he grinned. “Mr. Brubaker here didn't accuse any of us. He simply pointed out there's something a mite queer about the game.”
“That's what the lawyers call tantamount to an accusation,” chimed in Lemuel Atkins, a Mormon doctor at Fort Bridger who often violated the social order to indulge his love of pasteboard thrills with gentiles, the Mormon word for anyone outside their religion.
“Tanny mount, my hinder,” the hotheaded Billy fumed. “Let's kill the young pup with a knife, then, and go snooks on his money. He's called all of us cheaters, ain't he?”
“Not quite,” said the fifth player at the table, Sy Munro, an outfitter for pilgrims passing through Fort Bridger on their way to the Sierra goldfields and coast settlements. He wore new range clothes and a clean neckerchief. “I'd say he just implied it.”
“Imply a cat's tail!” protested Old Billy. “You heard the docâit was tanny mount! The snivelin' little scrote called every last one of us cheaters.”
“If he did,” put in Fargo calmly, shifting a skinny Mexican cigar to the other side of his mouth, “he spoke straight-arrow. Matter of fact, he's the only one at the table who
cheating. It's him ought to shoot us.”
Every jaw at the table dropped, including Lonny Brubaker's.
“Fargo,” warned Old Billy, “you
teeth when you got here.”
Fargo ignored his blustering partner, looking at the dumbfounded drummer. “Mr. Brubaker, have you ever heard of the cheater's table?”
“The . . . no, sir.”
“It's a custom that started on the Mississippi riverboats. When trade is slow for the professional gamblers, they get up a game among themselves to hone their cheating skills.”
“You mean I just happened along when one of those games was going on here?”
“We're not professionals,” Fargo conceded, “but we figured to have a little fun. Old Billy has been crimping cards, Sy smudging them with his cigar, and Doc Atkins has been dealing from every place
the top of the deck.”
“How 'bout you?”
Fargo grinned. “Every time the doc blew cigar smoke in your face, you turned in my direction and showed me your cardsâwhich ain't cheating, by the way. Learn to cover your cards, son.”
Brubaker's smooth-shaven face looked astounded. “Well, I'm clemmed!”
“How much did you drop tonight?” Fargo added.
“Well, twelve dollars.”
Fargo counted out three silver dollars from his pile and slid them to Brubaker. “C'mon, boys,” he called to the others. “Time to post the pony.”
Old Billy loosed a string of epithets worthy of a stable sergeant. Fargo's partner on this Pony Express assignment was a homely cuss with a twice-broken nose and a large birthmark coloring the left side of his face reddish purple. He was still in his thirties but had earned the moniker Old Billy because of his full mane of white-streaked hairâa legacy of nearly twenty years spent fighting some of the most bellicose tribes of the Southwest and Far West. His widespread reputation as an Indian fighter convinced Fargo to get him on the payroll.
“Fargo,” he said in a tone heavy with disgust, “the hell's got into youâreligion?”
“No, Fargo's right,” Doc Atkins said as he counted out three dollars. “I never intended to keep the lad's money. Besides, though it's my own people, Red is correctâscratch a Mormon and you'll find a jailer. Best to take the peace road.”
“I don't give a damn what you weak sisters do,” Old Billy said stubbornly. “A man shouldn't step in something he can't wipe off, and that's what this clabber-lipped greenhorn done. What's next? We powder his butt and tuck him in? I ain't paying back one red cent.”
Fargo watched Old Billy with speculative eyes. “Yeah, I've noticed something peculiar about you. You won't spend money except to gamble and make more. Won't even pony up a dime for a beer. I've never seen a bachelor behave like that.”
Old Billy averted his eyes. “So I'm a damn miser. No law agin it.”
Fargo shook his head and counted another three dollars out of his own money. “Satan won't allow you into hell, Old Billyâafraid you'll take over.”
During this exchange no one had noticed when the cowhide flap that served as a door was suddenly thrust aside. The woman who stepped inside the smoky, dimly lit hovel had a pretty face that was creased from worry and sufferingâa familiar sight on the frontier. No one noticed her in the murky shadows until the loud click of a mule-ear hammer being thumbed back seized their attention.