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Authors: Jon Sharpe

California Carnage

BOOK: California Carnage
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Table of Contents
 
 
PINE BOX PAYOFF
In a voice tight with suppressed anger, Stoddard asked, ‘‘Are you going to work for me or not?’’
‘‘Not hardly,’’ Fargo said. ‘‘I’ve still got over eighty dollars of your money. I’ll send it over to the hotel tomorrow. I spent the rest on supplies getting here.’’
‘‘Don’t bother,’’ Stoddard snapped. All pretense of geniality had vanished. ‘‘You should keep it. You never know—you might need to pay for a funeral someday.’’
He didn’t have to say the rest of what he meant. Fargo understood it just fine.
You’ll die next!
SIGNET
Published by New American Library, a division of
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014, USA
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, July 2007
The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
Border Bravados,
the three hundred eighth volume in this series.
Copyright © Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2007
All rights reserved
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
 
Printed in the United States of America
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
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eISBN : 978-1-4406-2087-4

The Trailsman
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.
California, 1858— where the stagecoaches that run along the Old Mission Trail carry trouble for the Trailsman.
1
The swift patter of footsteps along the street told the big man in buckskins that something was wrong. He stood in the shadows of an alley mouth with his lake blue eyes narrowed, waiting to see what was going to happen.
The girl came out of the night. Her long brown hair whipped around her shoulders as she jerked her head back and forth to look for any sign of her pursuers. She was on the far side of the street from the man in the shadows, but he could see her fairly well in the light that spilled through the doorways of several cantinas, still open at this late hour.
From somewhere in the darkness, a man stepped out in front of the fleeing girl. She skidded to an abrupt halt and cast wild glances around her, looking for somewhere else to run.
Before she could move, the man came toward her, his arms outstretched. She opened her mouth to scream. It was a hot, muggy night in the pueblo of Los Angeles, a night for screaming.
But before she could make a sound, the man clapped a rough hand over her mouth and grabbed her arm with his other hand. Cruel fingers dug into the flesh.
‘‘I’ve got the bitch,’’ he called to whoever had been pursuing the girl. Their hurried steps came closer.
Across the street, Skye Fargo strode out of the shadows and said, ‘‘Let her go.’’
His voice was deep and powerful; it carried well even though he didn’t raise it. The man holding the girl rasped a curse and swung around, pulling her with him so that she was between him and Fargo.
‘‘Who the hell—’’
‘‘I said, let her go,’’ Fargo repeated as he continued across the street in an unhurried fashion. He was a muscular man, a little above medium height, bigger than he appeared to be at first glance, with the speed and power of a wolf rather than the bulk of a bull. A short, dark beard sprouted on his jaw, and intelligent eyes peered out from under the broad brim of a sand-colored hat.
‘‘What business is it of yours?’’ the man who held the girl challenged. ‘‘Better light a shuck out of here, hombre, before you wind up in trouble.’’
A faint smile touched Fargo’s lips. ‘‘I don’t think I’m all that worried by threats from a low-down skunk who manhandles girls.’’
‘‘You son of a bitch. You don’t know who this little bitch is—’’
At that moment, the girl sank her teeth into the palm of the hand over her mouth.
The man screeched in pain, jerked his hand away, and hauled her around so that she faced him. Blood covered the palm of the hand she had bitten as he raised it to smash her face.
The blow didn’t land because Fargo had never stopped moving, and a couple of quick steps brought him in reach while the man was pulling his arm back to strike. Fargo’s right fist shot out in a short, sharp punch that smashed into the man’s face. The man let go of the girl as he stumbled backward. He caught his balance and clawed at the butt of the gun stuck behind his belt.
Fargo didn’t give him a chance to pull the weapon. He bored in, fast and hard, sinking a left in the man’s belly. Whiskey-laden breath gusted out of the man’s mouth. Fargo threw a right cross that clipped the man on the chin, and followed it with a looping left that landed with a solid impact on the jaw. The man went to his knees and then toppled onto his side. He lay there gasping for breath and groaning in a soft voice.
Fargo stepped back and turned as he heard a rush of footsteps behind him. The man’s friends had caught up.
The Colt in Fargo’s hand rose as he came around to face the others. They stopped short as they saw the black mouth of the gun’s muzzle pointing at them. The heavy revolver was rock steady.
‘‘Move over here behind me,’’ he told the girl, who was staring at the man Fargo had knocked down. She did as he said, scurrying to put him between her and the men who had been chasing her.
Three men glared at Fargo in the dim light. Like their friend, they were roughly dressed, beard-stubbled hardcases, the sort of no-accounts who could be found in the saloons and whorehouses of any frontier town. One of them demanded, ‘‘What the hell did you do to Elam?’’
Another of the men said, ‘‘Better put that gun down, mister, before somebody gets hurt.’’
‘‘It’ll be you who does,’’ Fargo said.
‘‘Damn it, there’s three of us and one of you, and we’re armed, too!’’
‘‘That means I’ll kill two before any of you get off a shot. The third man
might
be able to hit me, but I’ll kill him, too, before I go down.’’
From the grim, worried looks on their faces, none of them doubted what Fargo said.
‘‘Hell, take the little slut, and good riddance,’’ one of the men said. ‘‘We don’t want her that bad. And after you’ve been saddled with her for a while, you won’t, either. She’s nothin’ but trouble.’’
Fargo heard the angry hiss of the girl’s indrawn breath behind him, but he didn’t look around, didn’t take his attention off the men he held at bay with his Colt. ‘‘I’ll take my chances,’’ he said. ‘‘Now pick up your friend and get out of here.’’
‘‘You’re gonna be damn sorry you ever laid eyes on us, mister.’’
‘‘Too late. I already am.’’
Fargo moved back to give them some room as they came forward to help the first man onto his feet. He was groggy but conscious enough to stand under his own power once they got him upright. He glared at Fargo and might have tried to attack him again if one of his friends hadn’t pulled on his sleeve and said, ‘‘Let’s go, Elam. It’s over.’’
‘‘No, it ain’t,’’ Elam rumbled. ‘‘It ain’t hardly over.’’
But he left anyway, moving off in an unsteady walk, accompanied by the other three men. Fargo didn’t lower his gun until they had disappeared in the darkness down the street, and even then he didn’t holster the weapon.
‘‘Mister, I can’t thank you enough—’’ the girl began.
Fargo turned to her and grasped her arm with his free hand. His touch was gentle compared to that of the man who had grabbed her before. His voice held a note of urgency, though, as he said, ‘‘I don’t trust those varmints. Let’s get off the street before they double back and try to bushwhack us.’’
She gasped. ‘‘You think they would?’’
‘‘They might.’’ Fargo steered her toward one of the nearby cantinas. ‘‘We’ll be safe enough in there, where it’s light.’’
He had at least one friend there, too, because the place was run by a man named Pablo Almendovar, whose life had been saved by Fargo several years earlier. In fact, Fargo had been headed for Pablo’s cantina when he’d heard the hurrying footsteps and his instincts told him trouble was about to emerge from the darkness.
BOOK: California Carnage
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