Utah Terror : Utah Terror (9781101606971) (4 page)

BOOK: Utah Terror : Utah Terror (9781101606971)
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6

Fargo swooped his hand to his Colt but to his consternation Flanna O'Brien stepped between them. She said a few words in Chinese—the only one Fargo understood was “Han”—and pointed at the Pagoda.

The tall Tong hesitated. His eyes narrowed and he growled at her and she calmly replied. With what must have been an oath, he replaced the hatchet and angrily strode around them, his two glaring companions in tow.

“You savvy Chinese?” Fargo said when the trio were out of hatchet-throwing range.

“Not really,” Flanna said. “Only a few words. Enough to remind Nan Kua that Mr. Han might not like him spilling blood.”

“It would have been his blood that was spilled,” Fargo assured her.

“Even worse,” Flanna said, “for then Han might decree that you must die.”

“Decree?” Fargo said. “You make him sound like a king.”

“He practically is. Haven't I made it plain by now that Han rules this camp? His every wish, his every whim are blindly followed.”

“The other Chinese like him that much?”

“They live in fear of him and his Tong,” Flanna replied. She gazed out over the men panning the stream and the people in the street. “The other Chinese are nice as can be. If not for Han everyone would get along fine.”

As if to prove her point, an older couple walking by both smiled and the man said politely in English, “How do you do, Miss O'Brien?”

“Fine, thank you,” Flanna responded. Lowering her voice, she said in Fargo's ear, “Those bruises on Nan Kua and his friends. Was that your doing?”

Fargo nodded.

“Come on, then.” Flanna took his hand and hurried up the street. “Nan Kua will likely run to Lo Ping and Lo Ping will go to Master Han, and then you'll be in Tong up to your neck.”

Fargo let her lead him. He wouldn't run from a fight but he wouldn't provoke one, either. Not until he was ready.

As they came abreast of the blacksmith's, Fargo heard the metallic ring of a hammer on metal.

“Hold up,” Flanna said, and went in.

A brawny man of middle years with a bald head but a bushy mustache was hammering a horseshoe on an anvil. He was naked from the waist up, and his muscles rippled as he swung. He was so intent on his work that he didn't notice them until Flanna nudged his arm.

Instantly the blacksmith spun and raised his hammer as if to strike. “Miss O'Brien!” he blurted, and lowered it again. “You shouldn't sneak up on a man like that.”

“This is a friend, Skye Fargo,” Flanna said, introducing him. “Skye, this is Tom Bannon.”

“A white man, by God,” Bannon declared. He set the hammer on the anvil and offered his callused hand. “Welcome to hell.”

Flanna asked, “What's this my father tells me about you leaving?”

Bannon nodded. “I've had it. I'm sick of Han and his bullies. I don't care how much he pays me. I'm sneaking out of here.” He gestured at the anvil. “I'm shoeing my horse right now, in fact.”

“Does Han know?” Flanna asked.

“The only one I've told is your pa,” the blacksmith said.

“What about your tools? Your anvil?”

“I've got a buckboard,” Bannon said.

Fargo wasn't sure he'd heard right. “You're fixing to sneak off in a wagon?”

“I know what you're thinking,” Bannon said. “I'll wait until the middle of the night. Hardly anyone is ever up and about.”

“You're taking an awful risk,” Flanna said.

“I don't care. There's only so much a man can abide. I was a fool to agree to stay.” Bannon added as an afterthought, “And a greedy fool at that.”

“You'll say good-bye before you go?”

“Need you ask? You and your family are the best friends I have here.” Bannon turned back to the anvil, picked up his hammer, and resumed pounding on the horseshoe.

Flanna sighed and went back out. “I'll be sorry to see him go. We always knew we could count on him if push came to shove.”

“What was that about greed?”

“A common condition,” Flanna said. “In Tom's case, he was all set to pack up and leave when Han made him an offer he couldn't say no to. Tom's the only blacksmith and Han needed him.” She wrung her hands. “I hope he gets away without a hitch.”

“How about you?”

“I won't leave if my parents don't. It's entirely up to them.”

“Not that,” Fargo said. “Who do you cuddle with at night?”

Flanna stopped as if she had walked into a wall. Her mouth fell and she began to laugh but stopped. “Wait. You're serious?”

“A body as fine as yours,” Fargo said, “it would be a shame to let it go to waste.”

“My word,” Flanna said.

“I wouldn't mind paying you a visit after your folks have turned in.”

A pink tinge crept into Flanna's cheeks. “Oh, you wouldn't, would you?” Facing him, she poked him in the chest. “My parents have done you the honor of inviting you for a meal and you talk to me as if I'm a common trollop?”

“There's nothing common about you,” Fargo said. From her hair to her toes she had as fine a figure as he'd ever laid eyes on.

“I refuse to be addressed in this manner.” Her spine as straight as a board, Flanna wheeled and stalked off.

Fargo quickly caught up. “Do you always get mad when someone says you're good-looking?”

“You said more than that,” Flanna said. “You made it sound as if you want to ravish me.”

Fargo smiled. “I do.”

Flabbergasted, Flanna broke her stride, recovered, and stormed on.

Fargo easily kept pace. “You're even prettier when your dander is up.”

“Don't talk to me.”

“Your folks must coddle you.”

Digging in her heels, Flanna wheeled on him. Her eyes were smoldering pits.
“Coddle . . . me?”

“Protect you. Keep their little darling safe from the wolves of the world.”

The pink in her cheeks became scarlet from her neckline to her hairline. “I have half a mind to sock you in the mouth.”

“I'd sock back,” Fargo said.

“You're despicable.”

“I wasn't rude. I didn't take liberties. Despicable hardly fits.”

“You said you want to make love to me. What else would you call it?”

“About the highest compliment a man can give a woman.”

Flanna blinked. “I never.”

“Then it's about time,” Fargo said.

“No. I didn't mean I hadn't ever—” Flanna caught herself and the red became practically purple. “You're twisting my words. You have me so tongue-tied, I don't know what I'm saying.”

“I'd rather suck on it than tie it.”

Flanna put her hands on her hips and threw back her head and laughed. “I understand now. You're saying all this for humor's sake.”

“No,” Fargo said. “I'm saying it because I'd like to see you without clothes on.”

Flanna raised a hand to her throat. “You can't just come out with it!”

“Why not?”

“How did we get on this subject? I'm so confused, my head is spinning.”

“Could be it's not confusion,” Fargo said. “Could be you're excited.”

Flanna pivoted on a heel. “Leave me alone. I don't want to talk to you anymore.” She pumped her long legs energetically.

Fargo's legs were longer. As he overtook her he admired the saucy sway to her hips. “One kiss would prove me right or wrong.”

“No.”

“What can it hurt?”

“It'll hurt you when I knock your teeth out,” Flanna said.

“It would be worth it.”

“Go away.”

“I've been invited to supper, remember?”

“Which isn't for hours yet. I'd rather not see you until then.” Flanna walked faster.

So did Fargo.

So fast, some of the people they passed cast curious looks.

“I don't know how I could have been so mistaken about you. I took you for a gentleman.”

“When was the last time you kissed a man?”

“That's none of your damn business.”

“Oh my,” Fargo mimicked her. “Such language. I took you for a lady.”

“I wouldn't kiss you now if you were the last man on earth.”

“Good thing I'm not then.”

Flanna stopped and turned with her hands balled into fists. “One more word, and so help me.”

Fargo grinned and held his hands up, palms out, to show he was harmless. Then he leaned in close and kissed her on the mouth.

Flanna tensed. Her fists began to rise.

For a few seconds Fargo thought he had gone too far and she would carry out her threat to slug him. He let his lips linger, lightly, and when her fists stopped rising, he drew back and smiled. “Thank you. That was nice.”

Flanna sputtered.

“There's more where that came from if you're of a mind,” Fargo said, and before she could collect her wits, he headed off.

Now it was Flanna's turn to catch up to him. “I think I hate you.”

“Could be it's not hate,” Fargo teased. “Could be it's love.”

“No, no thinking about it,” Flanna said. “I definitely hate you.”

“You say you do but your lips said you don't.”

“That makes no sense at all.”

Fargo shrugged. “We'll find out tonight after your folks turn in.”

“And what do you think is going to happen?”

“You,” Fargo said, “will ravish me.”

7

Flanna barely spoke to him the rest of the way to the general store. He left her at the front door and was about to climb on the Ovaro when he noticed an old man who came out of the long, low building with two women. It was the same old man Lo Ping had been angry with.

Something about the women struck him as peculiar: the way they looked, the way they moved.

Forking leather, Fargo crossed at a point where the stream narrowed. There was no hitch rail so he let the reins dangle and went to the door. Signs in Chinese told him absolutely nothing.

Fargo pushed on the door, and right away knew it was an opium den. The smell, for one thing. The smoke and the haze, for another.

The old man was seated on a low stool, a quill pen in hand, writing Chinese characters on a parchment. He looked up and smiled and said a few words in Chinese.

Fargo entered. He reckoned he might as well see it all. “Savvy English?” he asked.

The old man tilted his head and answered in Chinese. He smiled, revealing a mouth full of yellow teeth. His face was as wrinkled as a prune and as pale as a bedsheet. His beard, which hung halfway to his waist, was neatly trimmed. His eyes were alert enough but betrayed a trace of an addiction.

Fargo had to stoop to enter. The doorway was too low for someone his size. Inside, it was as cramped as a prairie dog den. Here and there lamps broke the shadows, illuminating ogre faces.

The old man rose and bowed.

Fargo imitated holding a long pipe stem and puffing on it.

Smiling, the old man motioned and led him into the warren.

Fargo's gut churned in revulsion. He had been in opium dens a few times before. Give him whiskey any day.

The patrons were exclusively Chinese. Men and women of all ages were adrift in the bliss induced by the narcotic. Most lay on narrow cots covered with blankets or sat with their backs to a wall. Some smiled blankly at him. Others were so far lost in their own little worlds, they had no idea he was there.

The old man prattled as they went. As near as Fargo could tell, he was pointing out the finer points of his establishment.

Fargo didn't go all the way in. Fifty feet or so was enough. His hunch had been right. He tapped the old man on the shoulder and shook his head. “No, thanks,” he said. “I'd rather be drunk.”

His spurs jangling, Fargo went back out. He breathed mouthfuls of fresh air, climbed on the Ovaro, and headed deeper into the camp.

Most of the Chinese studiously avoided looking at him. Except for the Tong. Here and there he saw men in black and they always glared. He imagined word had spread about him. But apparently they were under orders not to bother him because they left him alone.

The House of Pleasure was a wonderment. The Chinese architecture, the finely wrought detail in the carvings, the gables, the place was a work of art.

Surprisingly enough, a hitch rail had been provided. Fargo no sooner dismounted and took a step than a pair of grinning young women in tight dresses came out and attached themselves to his elbows.

“Ladies,” he said grandly, smiling, “you must be the greeters.”

They giggled and shook their heads to signify they didn't savvy.

“Would Madame Lotus happen to be in?” Fargo asked, knowing full well they couldn't answer.

“I am always in,” said a husky voice with a lilting accent.

She was a stunner. Her age was hard to guess but Fargo pegged it as thirty to forty. She wore an exquisite Chinese dress. Her hair, her face, her nails were immaculate. She reminded him of one of those little Chinese dolls sold in Chinatown, brought to life. Her teeth, when she smiled, were flawless.

“Madame Lotus, I reckon,” Fargo stated the obvious.

She smiled and bowed and snapped at the two girls, who bowed their heads and stepped away.

“I don't stink that bad,” Fargo said.

Madame Lotus's delicate nose crinkled in amusement. “It is not that,” she said politely. “I will escort you personally.”

“I'm flattered.”

“You should be.” Madame Lotus took him by the right elbow but he lifted her hand off and lightly pulled her around to the left side.

She was sharp; she glanced at the Colt on his right hip and her smile widened. But she didn't say anything other than, “You have heard of the delights of my House, perhaps, and would like to taste of them for yourself?”

“I'd like a look-see,” Fargo said. “It's early in the day yet and I usually do my poking at night.” Which was a bald-faced lie. He'd make love any hour of the day or night.

“I would be most honored to show you around,” Madame Lotus said courteously.

It was like entering another world. Or stepping across the Pacific Ocean into China. Everything was Chinese. By any standards, her whorehouse was luxurious. The furnishings, the decorations, had been brought all the way from the mother country.

A fragrant scent tingled Fargo's nose. To the right was a parlor where more than a dozen brightly dressed young women sat primly awaiting gentlemen callers. Their painted faces, their rouge, they were more China dolls.

“If you should see a lady you like,” Madame Lotus said, “you will find it is never too early for pillow talk.”

Her melodious voice stirred Fargo where he had no intention of being stirred. “How about you?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Is it ever too early for you?”

Madame Lotus's eyes widened slightly, and she laughed. “Oh. That can never be. I do not offer myself. I must reserve my affections for someone special.”

Fargo could guess whom. “That's a shame,” he said with forced regret. “I'd give you a poke here and now.”

She was pleased by his flattery but tried to hide it. “I am most sorry that I am not available. We have dozens of other ladies for you to choose from.”

The hallway was as elegant as the parlor. Everywhere a feast for the eyes. A turn took them into another corridor where the walls were made of rice paper.

Fargo stopped and touched the wall on the right. The paper was smooth to the touch, and thinner than he would have thought.

“Beautiful, is it not?” Madame Lotus said proudly. “My master spared no expense in building the House of Pleasure.”

“It's different,” Fargo said.

“Would you like to see one of the rooms?” Madame Lotus moved to a section of wall that was actually a partition. She slid it aside, revealing a middling-sized room bare of furniture save for a mat and pillows and a small table with a teapot and accessories.

“Kind of plain,” Fargo said.

Madame Lotus entered and motioned. “But functional. One can focus on the pleasure of the senses and not be distracted.”

“Is that so?” Fargo said. Boldly walking up to her, he cupped her bottom and drew her against him. “Why don't you show me?”

Madame Lotus smiled and calmly said, “I told you before. I am not to be paid for.”

“That's too bad,” Fargo said, and kissed her. “You'd likely curl a man's toes.”

Her mouth formed a delightful oval and she gently pushed him away. “I must ask you to behave.”

“I'll try,” Fargo said.

She led him back out and closed the partition. “Now that you have seen what we have to offer, may I expect you this evening?”

“You never know.”

Suddenly, from the bowels of the building, a faint, fluttering scream wavered. Fargo heard it clearly, and glanced in the direction it came from. “What was that?”

“What was what?”

“You didn't hear it? It sounded like a woman in pain.”

Madame Lotus smiled. “This is the House of Pleasure. Some of our customers derive their pleasure
from
pain.”

“Whips and rope?” Fargo said.

“Whatever our customer requires,” Madame Lotus said. “Their happiness is our paramount duty.”

Fargo suspected there was more to it than that. He had half a mind to go find the screamer. But he let Madame Lotus usher him along the hall to the parlor. “I'm obliged for the tour.”

“It was my delight,” Madame Lotus said.

Fargo turned to go, and stopped.

Nan Kua and the two Tong with bruised faces had just walked in. Nan Kua gave a start and said something to the others. All three glared.

Madame Lotus smiled and addressed them in Chinese. Whatever Nan Kua snarled in reply brought a look of dismay.

“Oh my,” she said.

“What is it?” Fargo asked, casually resting his right hand on his Colt.

“It appears that these three have been looking for you,” Madame Lotus said.

“Some jackasses never learn,” Fargo said.

Nan Kua spat more Chinese at Madame Lotus. Her dismay deepened.

“I am to tell you that you have been invited to Master Han's Pagoda. Nan Kua and his friends are to escort you there.”

“No,” Fargo said.

“You do not understand,” Madame Lotus said. “You must go with them. An invitation from Master Han is the same as a command.”

“For you, maybe,” Fargo said. “I couldn't give a good damn.”

Nan Kua evidently asked what they were saying and Madame Lotus translated. Fury crackled on the tall Tong's brow, and he barked at her.

“I am afraid you have no choice. Nan Kua says you are to go with them whether you want to or not.”

“And if I don't want to?”

“Please. Why are you being so unreasonable?”

“Unreasonable, hell. I'm free to do as I damn well please.”

“I am most sorry,” Madame Lotus said, “but he says that if you refuse to go of your own free will, they will force you.”

“Let them try,” Fargo said.

BOOK: Utah Terror : Utah Terror (9781101606971)
12.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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