While he waited, he headed for Marshal Davis’s office. He usually liked to go it alone and didn’t often feel he needed help, but right now he did. If Anne had been taken, he didn’t care how many people helped him get her back. All that was important was that she was safe.
“Fargo,” Marshal Davis said, smiling as Fargo entered the office. “Glad to see you’re still alive and kicking.”
“I do my best,” Fargo said.
“I hear it’s a real hornet’s nest up there right now. Even the Placerville sheriff is staying out of the way.”
“It might get worse before it gets better if I can’t get something stopped here real quick.”
He explained to the marshal everything that had happened so far, then told him the two reasons why he was in town.
“You think they’ll go after her?” Marshal Davis asked.
“I’m getting to know how Henry Brant thinks. He needs me out of the way to get the Sharon’s Dream gold. And people around Placerville have seen me with Anne, so he knows she means something to me. He’ll go after that leverage on me. That’s why I had her leave town in the first place, but my guess is he had her followed, or had someone track her down.”
“Makes sense,” the marshal said, grabbing his hat and heading for the door. “Let’s go see if you have a telegram back yet.”
As they entered the office, the telegram came in, and it was exactly what Fargo had feared the most. Anne had checked out suddenly this morning.
Fargo stared at the telegram, trying to control the twisting dread in his stomach, then handed the slip of paper to the marshal.
“She wouldn’t do that,” Fargo said.
The marshal nodded, then glanced at the clock on the wall. “First train in from San Francisco is in twenty minutes. That would be the quickest way to bring her in. Otherwise it would take a good day of riding around the bay. Let me round up some deputies and we’ll meet it. They won’t suspect we’re coming.”
Fargo nodded his thanks. “You might want to have as many men as you can get. Brant has reinforcements coming in as well. Gunhands. My guess is many of them are wanted men. They all might be coming in together.”
“Meet you at the train station,” Marshal Davis said and headed out the door at a fast trot.
Fargo stared for a moment longer at the telegram, then flipped it back on the counter.
Cain dead, his son dead, now Anne taken. How much worse could this get?
He decided he didn’t want an answer to that question.
He found a place against the stone wall of the train station, right in the middle, his back to a door into a luggage area. The door had a window in it head-high for people to see in or out as they went through.
The train was starting to pull in as the marshal arrived, spreading out his men along the platform. There were enough other people on the platform that the marshal’s men blended in pretty well.
Fargo stepped back inside the door to the luggage area. No point in taking a chance that someone on the train would recognize him before they got off. His only chance against professional gunhands with this many people around was to catch them by surprise.
That was also the only way to make sure Anne got away safely.
Steam from the locomotive flooded the platform as it passed, its wheels grinding as it braked slowly to a stop.
Fargo noticed that the marshal also had men moving along the tracks to the area where the baggage and animal cars would stop, moving casually as if nothing was wrong. Fargo was impressed. In a very short time he had talked to his deputies and had them trained for the situation. The marshal was even more competent than Fargo had thought.
Fargo stared through the tiny door window at the windows of the first passenger car as it eased slowly past him.
No Anne. More than likely she would be in one of the cars surrounded by five or six men.
The five passenger cars slowly ground to a very noisy halt in front of Fargo, the middle one not more than twenty paces from him through the growing crowd.
So far, he hadn’t seen Anne in any of the first three cars.
He stepped from the door as the people inside the cars stood and started to get off. He kept his hat pulled down and his shoulders hunched to avoid being recognized.
It was from the fourth car that a man carrying a leather rifle pouch got off and looked around, scanning the crowd before stepping to the platform.
Fargo knew that face very well. He had hoped to never have a run-in with the man. He was fast and deadly with a gun, almost as deadly as Fargo was.
Rule was also wanted in three states. He had robbed banks, killed guards and lawmen, and was known to work with a dozen other men. It was no wonder Henry Brant had been waiting. It was no wonder Sarah Brant hadn’t left as Fargo had told her to do. With Rule and his men headed their way, they could control not only Sharon’s Dream, but more than likely a lot of Placerville.
Two more men got off behind Rule, followed by Anne. Fargo’s jaw clenched as he saw how she was being shoved around.
The marshal and his men had seen Rule as well, but were still holding their positions, hoping to let some of the crowd thin.
Fargo didn’t much care about the crowd.
But he did care about getting Anne out of the way of those men unharmed, and that meant waiting for the right time to attack.
Eight men total climbed off the train and moved out of the way, shoving Anne along with them.
She looked angry. Damned angry. He had seen that look on her face only once before, the day she found out two of her most trusted men were working to take over her ranch.
The outlaws stood for a moment in a small circle on the platform, talking, waiting for something as the crowd started to climb onto the train. It would be only a moment before the marshal and his men would stand out like sore thumbs to the outlaws.
He had only six shots in his Colt. If he made the play, he was going to have to hope the marshal and his men took care of at least two of the outlaws. Otherwise he was going to end up very dead right here on this train platform.
Fargo took a deep breath and stepped toward the men, his Colt heavy in his hand at his side. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the marshal nod and step toward the group as well.
At least two guns against eight
The odds were getting slightly better.
This was going to have to be quick and deadly. There was no other way.
Ten paces away from the group of eight men, with no stray passenger between him and the man who held Anne by the arm, Fargo said loudly, “Excuse me. I think you’re holding a friend of mine.”
Mick Rule smirked at Fargo. His grasp on Anne’s arm tightened.
“I don’t think you want to draw down on me, Fargo. You’ve got a big reputation but I’ve got the speed.”
Rule leaned away from Anne so that he could get at his gun. He was fast all right. But not fast enough for Fargo. Rule got one shot off but by that time Fargo had put a bullet in the heavy man’s heart.
Rule went down hard, his head smashing into the platform.
Anne spun away and fell to the deck, covering her head as other passengers around them screamed and also dove for cover.
At the same time, Marshal Davis cut two more of the outlaws down and the deputies cleared off the rest of them.
The sound of the shots and the cries of the passengers were still echoing as Marshal Davis turned to see five more gunnies jumping from the rail car that held the horses.
This battle was even bloodier than the first one but lasted for less than twenty seconds. It was fought in front of the baggage and cattle cars. Davis lost two deputies but only one gunny survived.
Fargo glanced around as the smoke from the guns cleared. People were flat on the platform or crouched behind luggage. From what he could see, none of the bystanders had been wounded. That was the first good thing that had happened in two days.
He leathered his Colt and reached down and offered a hand to Anne, who was still on the platform, staying low until she was sure the gunfire had ended.
“It’s over,” Fargo said.
Behind him, the marshal and his deputies surrounded the pile of dead outlaws. The deputies checked the shot men while the marshal started to work on calming the crowd.
“It’s over, everyone,” he shouted up and down the platform. “It’s safe to board the train and go about your business. Sorry for the problem this morning.”
Anne looked up at Fargo, her eyes blazing in anger. “How did you know?”
“I tend to keep track of the people I care about,” he said.
She slowly took his offered hand and let him help her gently to her feet.
“Are you hurt?” he asked.
She shook her head, brushing off her skirt, trying to straighten herself a little as she gathered her wits about her.
“Did you get my shirt?”
She still looked somewhat dazed from all the gun-play. But she smiled and said, “I didn’t have time to get you a shirt, Skye. But I did bring you a nice little surprise I think you’ll like.” She slid her hand in his. “And I think you’ll like it a lot more than a shirt.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I think I will too.”
Fargo was in no hurry to get back to Sharon’s Dream.
He helped Anne give a statement to the marshal, then escorted her to the Sacramento Inn, a large and plush hotel near the marshal’s office. They went to the dining room for a leisurely and quiet lunch. They had some talking to do before they headed back to Placerville.
As they waited for their order to come, Fargo said, “You look mad.”
“I am mad,” she said, her green eyes flashing. “I agreed to go to San Francisco to avoid this very thing, and it followed me there, where I had no one to help me, no one who knew me, no way to fight and defend myself.”
“I know,” he said. “And I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “Not your fault. Look, I’ve been defending myself for years now. I should have just stayed in my hotel and fought if I had to.”
He nodded. “I agree.”
She looked at him, puzzled, not expecting that answer from him.
“You can take care of yourself. I like that in a woman.”
She squeezed his hand and smiled, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. “Thank you.”
She took a deep breath, straightened up, and then said, “Besides a few bruises on my arms, I wasn’t harmed. They caught me as I came out of my room, put a gun on me, and told me to pack and check out. I did what they said, figuring I’d wait for my chance to break away. That, thanks to you, never came.”
“Did you know any of them?” Fargo asked.
She shook her head, so he told her. “The leader was Mick Rule.”
Her face went pale. “The bank robber and killer?”
“The same one. Henry Brant hired him and his men to help them take over Sharon’s Dream.”
She shuddered slightly. “Okay, I can take care of myself, but Mick Rule is out of my league. Thank you for rescuing me. You still didn’t tell me how you knew I was in trouble.”
“When you’ve been on the trail as many years as I have, you learn to trust your gut. My gut told me you were in trouble.”
She shook her head, not understanding. “Sometimes, Fargo, you puzzle me.”
At that moment the food came. After the waiter left, she said, “Start from the beginning and tell me everything that’s happened so far.”
He managed to keep things simple. Clean and clear. Her expression changed from time to time as he told her about the gunfights and his suspicions where the Brants were concerned.
“Now what, Skye?”
“Dessert,” Fargo said.
Anne laughed. Fargo smiled, enjoying the sound. He had been afraid this morning that he would never hear that laugh again.
“After dessert, silly.”
“We check in with the marshal to make sure he doesn’t need anything more from us; then we get you a horse and take a nice, peaceful ride back to the Wallace Hotel.”
“Aren’t you afraid Henry Brant is going to hear that he has no help coming, and that I’m safe?”
“I hope so,” Fargo said.
Again, she looked puzzled. Then she smiled. “Oh, I see. You’re thinking the gunhands still with him will hear they’re on their own and they’ll abandon the sinking ship.”
Fargo nodded, finishing off his sandwich and downing the last of his glass of water.
“And then Henry and Sarah Brant will make a run for it,” Anne said, smiling. “And you will track them down and deliver the justice they so deserve.”
“And my friend’s mine will be safe,” Fargo said. “That’s my hope. But with many things concerning Brant, I haven’t guessed right. We’ll just have to go back and see.”
“Good,” she said. “I miss my bed and my bathtub.”
Fargo smiled. “Interestingly enough, I miss your bed and your bathtub too.”
“Well,” she said, “when this is over, we’ll have to solve that problem.”
As the sun burned down directly on them, they headed back up the Placerville road, moving at a comfortable pace. It was still an hour before sunset when they reached Anne’s hotel. After they had her things back in her room, they both went to talk to Reg.
Fargo filled him in on the threat to Anne, and the three of them made plans to set up extra security around the hotel and at night around her room.
“Don’t expect help from the sheriff here,” Fargo said at one point. “Marshal Davis told me that his way of dealing with situations like this is to stay out of the way.”
“We’ve already noticed that,” Anne said.
After Fargo was comfortable that Anne and Reg had the hotel protected fairly well, he headed back out to the mine.
Men from Sharon’s Dream stood guard over both the road to their own mine and the road to the Brant mine.
Hank, Jim, and Walt met him as he rode up and into the stable to take care of his horse. As he unsaddled the big stallion and rubbed him down before givinghim some grain, he told the three what had happened in Sacramento.