Utah Terror : Utah Terror (9781101606971) (5 page)

BOOK: Utah Terror : Utah Terror (9781101606971)
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8

Nan Kua snarled at Madame Lotus, apparently asking her what Fargo had said. Wringing her slender hands, she translated.

Fargo thought he was ready. His fingers were curled around the Colt and he was poised to draw. He figured Nan Kua would say something to the other two and all three would come at him at once.

He was wrong.

Without another word, without any forewarning, Nan Kua sprang. He took a step and leaped into the air, his left foot extended.

Instinctively, Fargo swept his right arm up to block the kick. He succeeded, but the impact knocked him back.

Before he could set himself, Nan Kua spun, his other leg sweeping out.

Fargo ducked, and lost his hat.

Since Nan Kua hadn't resorted to a weapon, Fargo didn't either. Cocking his fists, he waded into the tall Tong. Nan Kua chopped at his neck and he sidestepped and let fly with a solid cross that rocked Nan Kua onto his heels.

The other two rushed in.

Fargo backpedaled into the parlor, where there was more room to move.

The women jumped to their feet, several crying out in alarm, and moved to get out of the way.

The other two Tong came after him. They didn't rely on weapons, either; they rushed in with a flurry of hands and feet.

A sandal arced at Fargo's face. Twisting, he buried his knuckles in the man's ribs. The Tong grunted and sagged. The other one slipped in and thrust the tips of his fingers at Fargo's throat but Fargo dodged and smashed him in the mouth.

The Chinese doubled over. The other one was sinking to the floor.

Fargo drew back his leg to kick—and glimpsed movement out of the corner of his eye.

Nan Kua was coming at him again, and this time he had his hatchet.

Barely avoiding a slash at his chest, Fargo gripped Nan Kua's wrist to prevent him from swinging again.

Nan Kua whipped around, seeking to throw him off, but he held on and brought his bootheel down as hard he could on Nan Kua's left sandal—onto his toes.

A shriek ripped from Nan Kua's throat and he staggered.

Quickly, Fargo swept his foot under Nan Kua's other leg, the leg shot out from under, and Fargo slammed him to the floor. The ax went skittering. Nan Kua lunged at Fargo's throat, his fingers rigid, and Fargo punched him. Not once, but four times, as hard as he could on the point of Nan Kua's chin.

The other two were getting back to their feet.

In a twinkling Fargo had the Colt out and brought the barrel crashing down on the head of the first. Swiveling, he delivered a bone-jarring blow to the last man's jaw.

In the abrupt stillness, Fargo heard one of the China dolls gasp.

Holstering the Colt, Fargo rubbed his knuckles.

“You defeated them,” Madame Lotus said, sounding amazed that he had.

“They're not so tough,” Fargo said, when, in fact, they were.

“Three Tong, by yourself,” Madame Lotus said. “I have never seen that done.”

Fargo turned toward the entrance. Where there were three Tong there may be more.

“Wait, please,” Madame Lotus said, and reaching out, she cupped his chin. She turned his head to one side and then the other, studying him as if he were a mystery. “How is it you prevailed? What manner of man are you?”

“A hungry one,” Fargo said. But it would be hours yet before he sat down at the supper table with the O'Briens. His stomach rumbled at the prospect.

“You are remarkable,” Madame Lotus said. “The Tong are formidable fighters.”

Some of the girls were whispering. Fargo smiled at them and stepped over the last man he'd felled. “Might see you again,” he mentioned.

“I sincerely hope so,” Madame Lotus said. “I have not met a man in a very long time who interests me as much as you do.”

“I'll interest you more with my clothes off,” Fargo said.

Madame Lotus laughed. “I do so look forward to your next visit. You are highly entertaining.”

Nan Kua groaned.

Fargo touched his hat brim and got out of there. The harsh glare of the sun made him squint as he climbed on the Ovaro and reined to the west. He rode clear to the end of the canyon and on out into the forest beyond. When he had gone far enough that he was sure not to be disturbed, he stopped at the first clearing he came to, gathered firewood, and put coffee on to brew.

Fargo had a decision to make. He could ride on, forget about Han and the O'Briens and Mai Wing and go on about his own business. That was the thing to do if he had a shred of common sense.

But then there was Flanna and her ripe body, Madame Lotus and her carnal delights, maybe even Mai Wing if he played his cards right.

“Hell,” Fargo said. It wouldn't surprise him if his pecker got him killed someday. A woman once called him a buck in perpetual rut, and that was as good a description as any.

When the coffee was hot enough he filled his cup and sat back. He had to remind himself that Han wasn't breaking any laws. Whorehouses weren't illegal, not in Utah Territory, anyway. Nor were opium dens.

He should skedaddle. He should finish his coffee and climb on the Ovaro and go wherever the wind took him. He should forget everything that had happened and leave the gold camp to Han and the Tong.

Instead, he sat and drank and relaxed as the sun crawled across the vault of blue. When it was about to disappear below the horizon he was on his way back to Hunan.

A lot fewer people were abroad. The nightlife wasn't as lusty and rowdy as most gold camps.

During their walk Flanna had pointed out where her family lived, and as the gray of twilight spread along the canyon floor, Fargo drew rein in front of their house. A simple frame affair, it boasted a small fenced yard with a few flowers and a porch with the inevitable rocking chair.

Fargo tied the Ovaro and went to the door and knocked. He didn't know what sort of reception he'd receive. Flanna might have told her parents his antics and they could well refuse to let him in.

Flanna herself opened the door.

Fargo braced for a tongue-lashing but she smiled and held out her hand and touched his arm.

“So you made it? Good. We were worried you might not. Come on in.”

“You're looking as gorgeous as always,” Fargo remarked. She had on a different dress that fit so snugly, it accented every contour in her delectable body. It also, to his surprise, showed some cleavage. Either her folks were more open-minded than a lot of parents or she was being brazen.

The house was simply but comfortably furnished. Flanna escorted him to the parlor and bid him take a seat on a settee. He barely sank down when Terrence and Noirin O'Brien entered. Both wore smiles and greeted him warmly.

“We were worried for your safety, boyo,” the storekeeper said. “There's a rumor sweeping the camp that you tangled with the Tong.”

“I did,” Fargo confirmed.

The parents swapped looks.

“That's not good,” Terrence said. “No one ever stands up to them and gets away with it. They're vengeful bastards.”

“Terry,” Noirin said. “Your language, if you please.”

“Sorry, love,” Terry responded. “But you know how the Tong make my blood boil.”

“Let's save that for later, shall we?” Noirin suggested. “After we've eaten.”

Terry grumbled but let it drop.

Over the next half an hour Fargo was treated to small talk about life in the gold camp and in Ireland before the family came to America. Flanna was strangely subdued and sat quietly with her hands in her lap.

The meal, as Mrs. O'Brien had said it would be, was pure Irish. Her stew was delicious. Fargo had never had colcannon before, and liked it. For dessert there was a dish called apple duff. Fargo wasn't much for sweets but had a second helping.

Afterward, Terry O'Brien patted his belly in contentment. “Was I right about my one true love being the best cook this side of the Emerald Isle?”

“I've never tasted better,” Fargo said.

“You flatter me,” Noirin said, clearly pleased.

Terry produced a cigar. He offered one to Fargo but Fargo declined. Terry used a lucifer to light it and puffed until the tip gave off plumes of smoke. Sitting back, he said to his wife, “I suppose we should get to it, then.”

Noirin nodded and turned to Fargo. “I hope you won't hold it against us, but we had a secret motive for inviting you here.”

“It wasn't for my company?”

Noirin blushed and said quickly, “There was that, too. But—” She stopped. “You're teasing me, aren't you?”

“Get on with it, dear,” Terry said. “Or would you rather I do the honors?”

“You,” Noirin said. “He might be more open, hearing it man to man, as they say.”

Terry blew a smoke ring at the ceiling, and frowned. “I don't need to go into detail about the situation here. You're well aware of it. Han holds this camp in a fist of iron, and rules through the Tong. Dare defy him and he sets his hatchet men on you.” He paused. “Han has made it clear whites aren't welcome. Tom Bannon and us are about the last. Tom leaves tonight.”

Noirin chimed in with, “We would very much like to go with him. But there's our store, you see. All our stock. We plan to stop ordering merchandise and sell off most of what we have and then slip away in the dead of night as Tom is doing. But that will take weeks if not months.”

Terry nodded. “We don't mind risking our own lives but it would ease our minds considerably if our daughter was safe. So I'd like to ask you, man to man, as my wife put it, if you'd be willing to do us a favor?”

Fargo looked at Flanna. At her cleavage. “Let me guess,” he said.

“When you leave,” Terrence O'Brien said, “we would very much like for you to take her with you.”

9

Fargo half expected Flanna to object. She didn't. She sat in her chair with her head bowed and a faint pink blush to her cheeks.

“We realize we hardly know you,” Terry went on, “but with you she has a chance of making it out of the mountains alive.”

Fargo brought up the obvious. “Why not have her go with Bannon?”

Noirin said, “We had that very idea when he first confided in us that he was leaving.” She gave her daughter a troubled glance. “But Flanna refuses to go with him and won't say why.”

“Contrariness, if you ask me,” Terry declared. “She thinks her proper place is at our side.”

“It is,” Flanna broke her silence.

“We appreciate that, girl,” Terry said. “We truly do. It's a fine lass you are, to hold your parents in such high regard.”

“But every day we live in fear for your safety,” Noirin said. “With you gone, we could breathe easier.”

“Who are you trying to fool, Mother?” Flanna responded. “It will make Han mad. He's liable to do anything.”

“Posh,” Noirin said. “He won't harm us. He relies on our store for things he needs.”

“Only until he opens a store of his own,” Flanna said. “Word is he's sent for a Chinese merchant who will run a store controlled by Han.”

“Be that as it may,” Terry said, “we want you out of this infernal camp, and that's final.” He turned to Fargo. “So will you or won't you?”

“You could leave this very night,” Noirin said. “The same as Tom Bannon. Let him go his way and you go yours. Han might think that you went with him and send the Tong after him. It would gain you the time to get clean away.”

“Mother,” Flanna said. “That's a terrible thing to say. It's using Mr. Bannon as bait.”

“I like him,” Noirin said, “but you're our daughter. Your welfare comes before all else.”

Fargo nipped their argument in the bud by saying, “I don't figure to leave for a couple of days yet.”

Terry sat up straighter. “What? Why not, in God's name? Why stick around?”

“I'm a prickly cuss.”

“What does that mean?” Noirin asked. “It's our daughter's life we're talking about. Whatever reason you have for staying, it can't be more important than she is.”

“It doesn't have to be tonight,” Terry sought to compromise. “It could be tomorrow night or the next.”

“Terrence,” Noirin said.

Terry reached over and placed his hand on hers. “The important thing is that he takes her.”

“Tonight is best, I tell you,” Noirin insisted. Pulling her hand free, she bent across the table toward Fargo. “Would money change your mind?”

“Noirin,” Terry said.

She ignored him. “We don't have a lot but what we do have is yours if you'll take Flanna away from here this very night. Two thousand dollars, every penny we've saved, and it's yours.”

“Noirin,” Terry said again.

Noirin motioned in annoyance. “Hush. I'm trying to strike a bargain with our guest.”

“If I take her,” Fargo said, “it will be because I want to.”

“Now you've done it, woman,” Terry said to his wife. “You've gone and insulted him.”

“Where's the insult in paying him for his trouble?” Noirin countered. “He knows how much she means to us.”

“You're suggesting he has a mercenary nature,” Terry said. “Some men wouldn't like that.”

“That's pride, that is,” Noirin said. “And I won't let pride stand in the way of our daughter being safe and free.” Her eyes bored into Fargo's. “What do you say? You could take her to Salt Lake City. It's the nearest town of any size, and civilized. She could find lodgings and wait for us to join her.”

“It's overrun with Mormons,” Terry said.

“Terrence O'Brien,” Noirin scolded. “Since when did you become intolerant of the religion of others? Besides, Salt Lake is to the east and well out of Han's influence. He came here by way of San Francisco, where he still has considerable sway.”

Fargo glanced at Flanna. She studiously avoided looking at him. He reckoned it would take a week or better for them to get there. All those nights, alone under the stars. “I might be willing to,” he conceded.

“Might isn't good enough,” Noirin said. “We need your solemn promise.”

“Might is all you get for now,” Fargo said.

“We've invited you into our home, we've fed you, and you treat us like this?” Noirin snapped.

Terry pounded the table so hard, the dishes and silverware jumped. “That will be quite enough. Keep this up and he'll refuse to spite you.”

“Surely not,” Noirin said.

Sighing, Terry gestured at Fargo. “I apologize for my wife. She's distraught. Normally she wouldn't think to impose on anyone.”

“Damn it, Terrence,” Noirin said.

“As you can see,” Terry said with a grin, “between her Irish temper and her stubborn streak, she's a handful.”

Fargo pushed his chair back and stood. “I'm obliged for the meal,” he said. “If things work out I might be able to take Flanna away before morning. But I can't make any promises.”

“We can't ask for more than that,” Terry said.

Noirin said, “Sure we can.”

Fargo touched his hat brim and went to leave but Flanna said his name.

“If you should decide to take me,” she quietly stated, “I'd be happy to accompany you. I know you'd be a perfect gentleman the whole journey.”

Fargo almost snorted. She knew he hankered to have her. He wondered what she was playing at, and replied, “It's rough country. And we'd have to watch out for hostiles.”

“I would place myself completely in your hands.”

Fargo smiled. There it was, as plain as she could make it with her parents sitting there. “I'm happy to hear that. I'll let you know.”

Terry walked him to the front door. “Whether you do or you don't, I can't thank you enough. You've given us our first real hope in months.”

“How long before you join her in Salt Lake City?”

“It's difficult to say. We'll have to liquidate on the sly. If Han catches on, our goose is cooked.” Terry opened the door and held out his hand. “Take care of yourself, you hear? I don't know what you're up to, but I'd advise you to stay away from the Tong if you can help it.”

Fargo couldn't. He went out and Terry closed the door behind him. He walked to the Ovaro and was reaching for the saddle horn when he noticed the stallion's head was up and its ears pricked. He spun but it was too late.

A ring of dark-clad figures had him surrounded.

Fargo streaked his right hand to his Colt. He'd be damned if he'd go down without a fight.

“That will not be necessary,” a familiar voice said, and Lo Ping stepped into the circle. His hands up his sleeves, he smiled his insincere smile. “We are not here to harm you.”

“Then why?” Fargo demanded.

“My master would like a word with you,” Lo Ping said. “Many words, actually.”

“Han wants to see me?”

“None other. Why do you sound surprised? After the incident today at the House of Pleasure, and others, it was as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun.”

“You sure do love to hear yourself talk.”

If Lo Ping took offense he didn't show it. “You may bring your horse if you like. But walk him. Don't ride.”

“If I refuse?”

“We are under orders to bring you whether you want to or not and I brought more of us than there are bullets in your six-gun.”

Fargo never had liked being bossed around. Whenever someone rode roughshod over him, his natural inclination was to feed them their teeth. Then again . . . “Fact is, I'd like to meet this master of yours.”

“You should be honored,” Lo Ping said. “Not many are admitted to his celestial presence.”

“I've never met a celestial before,” Fargo said, taking hold of the reins. “Lead the way.”

Men in black closed in on either side.

“Not too close,” Fargo warned.

“Every one of these men would love to test his mettle against you,” Lo Ping said. “They heard what you did to Nan Kua and the others.”

“Like dogs on a leash,” Fargo said.

“Oh, our Tong are much more, I assure you,” Lo Ping said. “We are a venerable society, older than your country. In our own land we are held in great respect.”

“I'd heard it was fear.”

“That too,” Lo Ping said.

The people who were out and about gave a wide berth to the men in black. Most of the businesses were closed but the opium den was doing brisk trade. So was the House of Pleasure.

“Madame Lotus was given a reprimand, thanks to you,” Lo Ping mentioned. “She is fortunate she wasn't punished more severely.”

“The fight wasn't her fault.”

“The House of Pleasure is her establishment. It is her duty to maintain order.”

“Nan Kua started it,” Fargo said. He wondered why he was defending her.

“So she informed us. That, too, will be dealt with before too long.”

The Pagoda towered above them, an architectural colossus that would rise even higher in the weeks and months ahead. Lights were lit all over.

More Tong stood guard out front. Some had hatchets at their waist. Others, their hatchets were hidden.

“What do you have against guns?” Fargo asked out of curiosity.

“Our own weapons have always served us well,” Lo Ping said. “In the Triads in our own country, and now here.”

Stepping into the Pagoda was like stepping into China.

Every facet, every article was Chinese: the lamps, the furnishings, the paintings, and the designs. It was like Madame Lotus's, only grander.

Lo Ping led Fargo up a series of stairs. At each landing Fargo gazed down a hall fit for a palace.

At the fifth-floor landing there were more guards.

“These are our master's temporary quarters while the Pagoda is being finished,” Lo Ping revealed.

The chamber Fargo was admitted to was the most lavish yet. It included, incredibly, a throne on a raised dais.

And there, waiting for him, sat the gold camp's self-appointed ruler.

“I'll be damned,” Fargo said.

BOOK: Utah Terror : Utah Terror (9781101606971)
13.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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