Read California Crackdown Online

Authors: Jon Sharpe

California Crackdown (20 page)

Again her face lit up and her green eyes sparkled. “Then we have some time together?”
“We have some time,” he said, smiling.
“Well, I suggest we make the most of it, then. I’ll be right back.”
He sat, sipping the last of his drink. He had lost one old friend, but gotten closer to another old friend. Sometimes the balance in life was just that way.
Anne came back across the dining room toward him, smiling.
She noticed that his glass was empty and motioned for the waiter to bring him another. Then she sat down.
“What did you need to do?”
She touched his hand and smiled. “I figure that if I get another drink in you, I might be able to convince you to come back to my room and crawl in that wonderful bathtub of mine with me once again. So I had it filled.”
“You expect me to take two baths in the same week?” He laughed, looking into those sparkling green eyes. “Are you trying to turn me into a gentleman or something?”
She smiled at that, then reached forward and kissed him softly, then whispered, “I just like it when you watch me bathe.”
He swallowed hard, remembering the last time they had been in that tub together. “And how long will it take them to fill the tub?”
She laughed. “About one drink’s worth of time.”
“I can drink real fast.”
LOOKING FORWARD!
The following is the opening
section from the next novel in the exciting
Trailsman
series from Signet:
THE TRAILSMAN #325 SEMINOLE SHOWDOWN
Indian Territory, 1860—
where a trail of tears leads Skye Fargo
into a showdown with deadly danger.
“Don’t move, mister, or I’ll blow your damn brains out.”
The big man in buckskins stood absolutely still. A touch of amusement lurked in his lake blue eyes as he asked, “What about my hands? Do you want me to put my hands up?”
“Uh . . . yeah, that’d be good, I reckon. Put your hands up.”
Skye Fargo lifted his hands to shoulder level. A faint smile tugged at the corners of his wide mouth, nestled in the close-cropped dark beard. But he was wary at the same time, because even though he could tell from the voice that the person who had threatened him was undoubtedly young and probably inexperienced,a bullet fired by such a person could still take his life.
“You want to be careful with that gun, whatever it is,” Fargo advised. “Don’t let your finger rest on the trigger, or you’re liable to shoot before you really mean to. And I don’t think either of us wants that.”
“You just let me worry about when I shoot. Who the hell are you, anyway?”
“A friend,” Fargo answered. “I’m looking for Billy Buzzard.”
That brought a sharply indrawn breath from the youngster behind him. “You’re a friend of Billy’s?”
“That’s right. We rode together a while back, doing some scouting for the army.”
“Oh, my God. You’re him. You’re the Trailsman.”
Fargo had to grin at the tone of awe in the kid’s voice. That was one of the advantages—or drawbacks, depending on how you wanted to look at it—of having a reputation.
“Some call me that,” he admitted. “But my name is Skye Fargo.”
“You wouldn’t be lyin’ to me?”
“Nope.”
“Well, then, I, uh, I reckon you can put your hands down, Mr. Fargo. I’m sorry I pointed this here—”
The sudden roar of a shot drowned out whatever the boy had been about to say.
Fargo felt as much as heard the wind rip of the bullet’s passage close beside his right ear. He whirled around, thinking that the boy had accidentally pulled the trigger, just as Fargo had warned him he might.
He caught a glimpse of the youngster’s face, though, which looked even more surprised than Fargo expected, and the next second another shot blasted somewhere nearby. A narrow branch leaped from a tree, cut off by the bullet.
Fargo lunged at the kid, knocking him off his feet and sending the boy’s rifle flying. He rolled next to a deadfall and shoved the boy against it.
“Stay here, and keep your head down!” he ordered. A third shot sounded, knocking bark off the trunk of the fallen tree. That shot allowed Fargo to pinpoint the source of the ambush, because he saw powder smoke spurt from some brush atop a low bluff about twenty yards away.
Fargo’s Henry rifle rode in a saddle sheath strapped to the magnificent black-and-white Ovaro stallion he’d left a short distance back up the gulch. Armed only with a heavy Colt revolver, Fargo knew he’d have to get closer to the bushwhacker to do any good with the handgun. He crawled along the deadfall, keeping the thick trunk between him and the rifleman on the bluff.
He had expected trouble as soon as he realized a short time earlier that someone was following him as he rode through these rugged, thickly wooded hills. Whoever was on his trail, though, made so much racket that Fargo had soon decided it couldn’t be anybody too well versed in the ways of the frontier. Growing impatient with being the prey instead of the hunter, he had dismounted and started up a rocky defile on foot, in hopes of drawing his pursuer in after him.
The trick had worked, sort of. Fargo had figured to get the drop on whomever was trailing him and find out what was going on. He wasn’t surprised to discover it was a kid, a boy about sixteen from the looks of him.
But then somebody else had opened fire on both of them, and now Fargo had to deal with that problem.
He reached the end of the log and took off his wide-brimmed brown hat, setting it aside for the moment. Carefully, he edged his head around the log and peered up at the bluff. No more shots had sounded, and the brush didn’t move or rustle. Fargo’s instincts told him that the bushwhacker was still up there, though.
The man was probably crouched in the brush with his sights lined on the deadfall, just waiting for any sign of movement. That tension would have stretched his nerves taut by now. A grim smile touched Fargo’s mouth. He’d give the son of a bitch something to shoot at.
He picked up his hat and sailed it at the bluff.
Sure enough, a shot erupted from the brush. But it was aimed wildly at the flying hat, not at Fargo, who powered to his feet and sprinted toward the bluff. He triggered a couple of rounds in the direction of the bushwhacker, not worrying about hitting anything, just trying to come close enough to make the varmint duck instinctively for cover. That gave Fargo time to reach the base of the bluff.
From that angle, the rifleman couldn’t draw a bead on Fargo, who holstered his Colt and started climbing. He used rocks and roots that protruded from the earth as handholds and footholds, and he needed only seconds to scale the dozen or so feet to the top of the bluff. He rolled over the edge and came to a stop on his belly, listening intently.
The shots would have scared away all the birds and small animals in the area, so when the Trailsman’s keen ears picked up a faint rustling, he knew the bushwhacker had to be the one causing it. The man was trying to work his way closer to the edge of the bluff, maybe in hopes of being able to fire down at Fargo.
Too late for that. Fargo was already at the top, and he came up on one knee and drew his gun in the same motion as a roughly dressed man pushed some branches aside and stepped into view, clutching a rifle.
The man let out a surprised yelp at the sight of Fargo and jerked his weapon in the direction of the Trailsman. Fargo fired before the bushwhacker could get off a shot.
However, the man had turned enough so that Fargo’s bullet slammed into the stock of the rifle he held, shattering it and knocking the gun out of the man’s hand. He shouted in pain and whipped around to plunge back into the brush before Fargo could ease back the Colt’s hammer and fire again.
Fargo surged to his feet and went after the man, holstering his gun again as he did so. Branches clawed at him as he crashed through the brush. He could hear his quarry fleeing madly in front of him. The man was only a few steps ahead of Fargo when he broke out into the open again and lunged toward a horse tethered to a sapling.
The bushwhacker jerked the reins free, got a foot in the stirrup, and had started to swing up into the saddle when Fargo launched a flying tackle at him. He crashed into the bushwhacker, and both men collided with the horse’s flank.
The shooting probably had the animal pretty spooked to start with. Now it let out a shrill whinny of fear and reared up on its hind legs, pawing frantically at the air with its front hooves.
One of those hooves smacked hard into Fargo’s left shoulder and knocked him back a step. His left arm went numb. At the same time, with strength born of desperation, the bushwhacker swung a knobby fist that connected solidly with Fargo’s jaw. For a second, sky-rockets went off behind the Trailsman’s eyes and blinded him.
Fargo’s vision recovered in time for him to see a heavy-bladed knife slicing toward his face. He ducked under the slashing attack, lowered his head, and butted his opponent in the belly. The man’s breath
whoosh
ed out of his lungs as he doubled up and went over backward.
Fargo leaped after him in an effort to pin the man to the ground, but the hombre threw a booted foot up in time to kick Fargo in the stomach with it and send him falling off to the side.
Now they were both out of breath. Fargo rolled over and came up on his knees in time to see the bushwhacker grab a flapping stirrup on the skittish horse and use it to pull himself to his feet. The man still had hold of the knife. He flung it at Fargo, forcing the Trailsman to dive to the side to avoid the spinning blade.
That gave the bushwhacker time enough to haul himself into the saddle and kick the horse’s flanks. He kept kicking as the horse broke into a gallop.
Fargo pushed himself up and palmed the Colt from its holster, but as he brought the revolver up, he hesitated. He could shoot the horse, or he could shoot the bushwhacker in the back, and both of those things went against the grain for him. Grimacing, he climbed to his feet as the bushwhacker and his mount disappeared into a grove of trees.
Fargo thought the chances of the varmint doubling back for another try were pretty slim. Once the initial attempt on Fargo’s life had gone sour, the rifleman seemed to want nothing more than to get away.
Or maybe the man hadn’t been trying to kill him at all, Fargo thought suddenly, at least not at first.
That kid had been down there too, and the shots had come just about as close to him as they had to Fargo.
It was time for him to see if he could find out what in blazes this was all about, Fargo told himself.
First things first. He reloaded the Colt, then slipped it back into leather. Then he went back to the spot where he had shot the rifle out of the bushwhacker’s hands and picked up the weapon with its shattered stock. There might be something unusual about it that would point him toward the owner, he thought.
The rifle had nothing distinctive about it, however. It was a Henry much like the one Fargo owned, but not as well cared for. And now, of course, it had a broken stock. A gunsmith could replace that, so Fargo took it with him.
He found a place where the bluff’s slope was gentle enough for him to be able to descend without having to climb down. As he walked toward the deadfall, he called, “All right, son, it’s safe for you to come out now. Whoever that hombre was and whichever one of us he was after, he’s gone now.”
No answer came from behind the log. Fargo frowned and put his right hand on the butt of his Colt, carrying the broken rifle in his left as he approached. He looked over the rotting log.
The kid was gone.
At least there were no bloodstains on the ground to indicate that any of the shots had hit the youngster. He probably had a horse somewhere nearby, and as soon as he’d been able to tell that the fracas between Fargo and the bushwhacker had moved away from the edge of the bluff, more than likely he’d run down the gulch to find his mount and light a shuck out of there.
Clearly, though, the boy knew Billy Buzzard. His reaction when Fargo had mentioned the name had been one of familiarity. And he had recognized Fargo’s name too, which in all likelihood meant that Billy had told the youngster about him. Fargo had a hunch that if he went on to Billy’s place, he might meet up with that kid again.
And if he did, he intended to get some answers.
Then again, he told himself as he whistled for the Ovaro, he had a few questions for Billy Buzzard too.
The stallion trotted up the gulch toward him. Fargo had left the reins looped around the saddlehorn, preferring that the Ovaro be free to move around in case of trouble, rather than being tied up somewhere. The big black-and-white horse tossed his head angrily as he came up to Fargo, as if telling the Trailsman that he had heard the shots and didn’t cotton to missing out on the action.
“Take it easy,” Fargo told the stallion as he tied the broken rifle onto the back of the saddle. “Chances are there’ll be more trouble, plenty for both of us.”
No truer words were ever spoken, he thought, as he retrieved his hat, which the bushwhacker’s hurried shot had missed, and settled it on his head. One thing Fargo’s adventurous career had taught him was that trouble was never long in coming. . . .

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