Authors: Jon Sharpe
A CUT ABOVE
Fargo either had to wait until they went back to leaning and talking, or do what he did. He was up in a blur and drove the toothpick's double-edged blade into the chest of the man who was stretching. He twisted, yanked it out, and was on the second Tong before the first realized he had been stabbed. The second man turned right into the toothpick. Fargo sank the sharp steel to the hilt in the man's throat and slashed outward.
It had been beautifully done. Neither managed to utter an outcry. They thrashed a bit, and the second man gurgled and bubbled fountains of blood.Â .Â .Â .
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
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The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
, the three hundred seventy-second volume in this series.
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BeginningsÂ .Â .Â . 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.
The remote and rugged mountains of
Utah Territory, 1861âwhere a hatchet in the back
was a common way to die.
The mountains were green and lush with life, and deadly to man and beast alike.
Skye Fargo caught sight of a careless buck in a thicket. The buck heard the clomp of the Ovaro's hooves and raised its head for a look and ducked down again.
Drawing rein, Fargo sat as still as a statue with his Henry pressed to his shoulder and his cheek to the smooth brass, waiting for the buck to stick its head up again. He hadn't had a good meal in a week. The prospect of a thick venison steak made his mouth water.
The buck wasn't making the same mistake twice.
Fargo tried a trick. He whistled as high and as loud as he could, and the curious buck rose up for another look. “Got you,” Fargo said to himself, and stroked the trigger.
“I can taste the meat already,” Fargo said as he shoved the Henry into the saddle scabbard. He was talking to himself a lot of late. Alighting, he led the Ovaro to the thicket.
Retrieving the buck took effort. The bushes were so close together that it was a wonder the buck had wormed its way in. But bucks were good at hiding. He once saw a hunter walk right past one lying in tall grass and not notice it.
After a lot of pulling and grunting, Fargo got this one out of the thicket. Drawing his Arkansas toothpick from its ankle sheath, he set to work.
Most men would use a skinning knife or a bowie but he was partial to the toothpick. Double-edged and sharp as a razor, it was light and slender enough that he could whip it out quickly if he had to.
Fargo didn't bother with fancy carving. He had no intention of saving and curing the hide; it was the meat he wanted. He impaled a hunk of haunch on a spit, kindled a fire, and sat watching the meat cook. His stomach rumbled and the aroma about made him want to bite into the meat raw.
It was as he was squatting there, his forearms across his knees, that the undergrowth crackled.
Instantly Fargo was erect with his hand on his Colt. A tall man, broad at the shoulders, he wore buckskins and boots and a white hat and red bandanna. All had seen a lot of use.
Out of the woods came three men. To say Fargo was surprised was putting it mildly. For one thing, he wasn't aware of a town or settlement nearby. For another, the three were Chinese.
One was short and thin and had a weasel face that Fargo took a dislike to on sight. The man wore the usual Chinese garb and a small hat that made Fargo think of an upside-down food bowl. The man stopped and whispered something to his companions.
The other two were squat and thick and wore matching black clothes. They listened and gave slight bobs of their heads. Both stuck their hands up their baggy sleeves and crossed their arms across their chests as they followed the weasel over.
“So sorry, sir,” the weasel said, “for disturbing you at your meal.”
“What do you want?” Fargo demanded. He had nothing against the Chinese. He didn't hate them as many whites did simply because they weren't white. But strangers too often spelled trouble, Chinese or otherwise.
“I am Lo Ping.” The man gestured at the pair in black. “My associates are the Hu brothers.”
“Good for you.” Fargo was so hungry, his gut hurt. He wanted them to leave so he could get to eating.
Lo Ping smiled but it didn't touch his eyes. “We wonder if you have perhaps seen anyone in the past hour or so. We seek a girl who ran away from Hunan.”
“Hunan?” Fargo repeated. “Who or what is that?”
“It is a gold camp, good sir,” Lo Ping said. “Named after a province in China from which many of us at the camp are from.”
“A gold camp this far out?” Fargo recollected that the last outpost he'd come across was fifty miles back.
Lo Ping nodded. “It is a new one. Run by Chinese, for Chinese.”
“That's a first,” Fargo said. He'd been to camps where Chinese made up part of the population but never to one exclusively so.
“About the girl,” Lo Ping said. “Have you seen her, perhaps?”
“All I've seen is him,” Fargo answered, with a nod at the buck. “And you.”
“Ah.” Lo Ping frowned. “Again, I am sorry to have disturbed you. We will depart.” He started to turn but stopped. “If you should see her, and if you would bring her to Hunan, there will be a suitable reward.”
“What is she? An outlaw?” Fargo joked.
“As I told you, she is a runaway,” Lo Ping said. “She is most temperamental and does not like to do as she is told.”
“Who does?” Fargo said.
“She dishonors her ancestors with her behavior,” Lo Ping elaborated, with a hint of anger. “She has been paid for, and should accept her fate as everyone else does. We all have our purpose.”
“I doubt I'll see her,” Fargo said. “As soon as I'm done eating, I'll be on my way.”
“That is good, sir,” Lo Ping said.
Something in the man's tone rankled, a suggestion that Fargo was unwelcome. He tested his hunch by asking, “Is there a general store in this gold camp of yours? I could stand to buy some supplies.”
Lo Ping frowned. “There is, but it does not carry much you can use.”
“How the hell would you know?”
“It caters to Chinese needs,” Lo Ping said. “Trust me when I say it would be wiser for you to buy your supplies elsewhere.” He smiled and bobbed his head and walked off.
Moving as one, the Hu brothers turned and trailed after him.
Fargo shook his head in amusement. He didn't really need supplies and didn't give a damn about their gold camp. As soon as he finished eating, he'd move on.
Sinking back down, he breathed deep of the delicious aroma, and practically drooled. He was nothing if not patient, and he waited until the meat was cooked clear through before he removed the spit from the fire. He didn't bother taking it off the stick. Holding an end in either hand, he tore into the juicy venison with relish.
He liked beef more and buffalo best but deer meat was delicious in its own right. Closing his eyes, he chewed with the eagerness of a starved wolf.
When he opened his eyes, a girl was there.
She'd stepped from behind a tall spruce and stood eyeing him uncertainly. To call her a “girl” wasn't quite fitting; she was in her twenties, he reckoned, and her womanly attributes were enough to draw a man's eye despite her loose-fitting clothes. She wasn't wearing a dress. She had on a Chinese-style shirt and pants similar to those the three men had worn, and sandals. Her black hair was cropped at the shoulders. Her eyes were a penetrating brown, her full lips inviting.
Fargo stopped chewing and said with his mouth full, “Well, now.”
She gnawed her lower lip and gazed nervously in the direction Lo Ping and the Hu brothers had gone.
“Who might you be?” Fargo asked.
She stared at him.
“Do you speak English?”
All she did was stare.
“Are you hungry?” Fargo said, motioning at the buck. “I have plenty to spare.” He waited but when all she did was continue to stare, he shrugged and took another bite.
The girl inched closer. She seemed undecided if she could trust him.
On an impulse Fargo cut off a piece and held it out to her. “Here.”
She stopped and did more staring.
“You're damn ridiculous,” Fargo said, and tossed the piece at her feet.
Warily, almost timidly, she tucked at the knees and carefully plucked the meat from the ground. She sniffed it a few times, then brushed it off and tried a tiny bite. Evidently she wasn't used to eating deer. She swallowed, and smiled, and bit off a bigger mouthful.
“That's more like it,” Fargo said. He indicated a spot across the fire. “You're welcome to join me if you'd like.”
She understood. She eased down cross-legged and regarded him with what he took to be more than casual interest.
“Skye Fargo,” he introduced himself, and tapped his chest. He pointed at her. “What's your name?”
She didn't respond.
“Name,” Fargo said. He tapped his chest again. “Fargo.” He pointed at her and arched his brows.
She took another bite of venison.
“Oh, well.” Fargo shrugged. He hadn't had many dealings with the Chinese, and while he spoke Spanish and could hold up his end of a conversation in half a dozen Indian tongues, he didn't know a lick of her language.
She finished and wiped her fingers on the grass. “May I please have another piece, kind sir? It is very good and I am starved.”
Fargo glanced up. “So you do know English?” He took the toothpick from his lap. “You can have as much as you'd like.” He cut off a larger chunk and tossed it across the fire.
She deftly snatched it out of the air. “Thank you very much. It has been two days since I ate last.”
“You're the one those gents were after,” Fargo said. “The girl who ran away from the gold camp.”
“Did they tell you why?”
“Something about you don't like being told what to do,” Fargo recollected.
“There is more to it than that,” she said. “I refuse to let a man touch me if I do not want him to.”
Fargo thought he savvied. “Does Lo Ping want to get in those pants of yours?”
“Get in myâ?” she said, and her cheeks became pink. “Oh. No. It is not like that. I would not have him for my man if he were the last man on earth.”
“I refuse to work for Madame Lotus and ran away. Han sent Lo Ping and his hatchet men after me.”
“Hatchet men?” Fargo said.
“Yes. Theyâ” She looked past him, and stiffened and pushed to her feet.
Fargo suspected what he would see before he turned.
Lo Ping and the Hu brothers were back. Lo Ping smiled his oily smile and crooked a finger at the girl. “We have found you. You will come along and not cause trouble.”
“I will not,” the girl declared.
“You have no choice.”
Fargo couldn't say what made him do what he did next. Maybe it was how Lo Ping made his skin crawl. Maybe he didn't like to see the girl bullied. Or maybe he was just pissed that they kept interrupting his meal. Whatever his reason, he stood and faced them and said, “Sure she does.”
Lo Ping scowled. “This is not your concern. Leave her to us and go about your business.”
“And if I don't?” Fargo said.
“You will be taught a lesson in manners,” Lo Ping warned. “And it will not be pleasant.”