“I sure hope you catch him, friend. This town’s got enough troubles without people shootin’ at people right here on Main Street.”
The roof wasn’t any help in figuring out who the shooter had been. He’d been smart enough to take his shells and whether on purpose or not his boot prints were lost in the boot prints of many other men. Fargo stood in the position the gunman had taken. He had to change his mind about the prowess of the man. Even given all the street traffic, killing Fargo should have been an easy task. Fargo had paused on the top of four steps. Easy to see day or night. One shot should have killed him. Two should have made sure the job was done properly. But the man had missed both times.
Fargo walked to the back edge of the roof. Escape had been easy. A prairielike stretch of grass behind the store led to a stretch of deep timber. No problem losing yourself in there.
Fargo wondered who’d hired the man. He had a pretty good guess. Fargo grinned. He’d probably paid a fair amount of money for the shooter. But he sure hadn’t gotten his money’s worth.
For the next few days, Fargo alternated between Cain’s mine, the poker tables in the Wallace saloon, and Anne’s soft feather bed and loving touch. He saw his own room only once a day to shave and clean up, but since Cain was paying for it, he didn’t much care.
One morning Fargo crawled out of Anne’s warm bed and into the cool, early-morning air.
“Where are you heading, mister?” she asked, rolling over and exposing one naked breast. Her nipple hardened like a greeting to him.
Somehow he managed to keep dressing. “Got some scouting to do around Sharon’s Dream.”
She pulled the sheet up and covered herself just a little as she sat up more. “You expecting a fight?”
“Never know,” Fargo said. “I hope not.”
She nodded. “As long as you’re safe. Now I’m going back to sleep for a while.” She slid down and covered herself completely. “Take care.”
He finished dressing and leaned over and kissed her, but she was already asleep.
On a map out at the mine, Cain showed him the claim line between Sharon’s Dream and the Brant mine. It ran right up the ridgeline farther than Fargo had wanted to hike.
The sunlight was slowly working its way down the high peaks when he started up the ridgeline above the Sharon’s Dream mine entrance. He had a hunch how the robbers were pinpointing Cain’s shipments. He just had to confirm that hunch.
It was still an hour before Cain would normally start packing an ore wagon, so if anyone was watching, they would be up there now.
Fargo moved silently, working his way around the hill slightly and onto Brant’s property so that he wouldn’t be seen by anyone watching the Sharon’s Dream side.
He heard the two men before he found their camp. They were muttering to each other about the cold and one of them was wishing he could start a fire.
“And bring a dozen of Cain’s men up here?” the other man said.
“I know, I know,” the one who had been complaining said.
“Bring a blanket tomorrow,” the other man said. “I’m tired of you complaining every day.”
Fargo eased up on them, moving silently, his Colt in his hand.
They were sitting on the ground under a large stone outcropping high on the ridge. From where they sat, it was only a few steps to a ledge that looked over Cain’s mine and the area where the gold was loaded. More than likely every morning before sunrise these two men climbed up here and waited for any sign of the gold being loaded. They weren’t miners—Fargo was sure of that. They both looked trail experienced and had guns in leather on their hips.
As Fargo watched, one of them moved forward and then, on his hands and knees, eased up to the edge and looked over. “Nothing yet.”
“Still too early,” the other man said. “Give it another hour and if there’s nothing, we’ll head back down.”
Since shipments into Sacramento were always done during the day, and the gold loaded in the morning, the two on watch didn’t have to wait much past ten on any given day.
Fargo needed to know exactly who these men were and who they were working for, even though he would bet anything at this point on Brant being behind the operation.
Fargo waited until the man was back sitting beside his friend before he stepped into the clearing, his Colt pointed at the two.
Both of them jumped and started to reach for their guns, but Fargo said, “Too early and too cold to die.”
Both men froze, half up, half reaching for their guns.
“Sit back down now real slow and put your hands where I can see them.”
Both men did as they were told. Now the trick would be getting information out of them.
“You men look to have a pretty easy job. Just sit up here and watch things down below.”
“We earn our keep,” the first man said. He stroked a red beard and watched Fargo skeptically.
“That’s what I want to know about. Your ‘keep.’ Who’s paying you to sit up here?”
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” said the bald one.
“Since I’m holdin’ the gun, I’d say my business is anything I want it to be.”
Red Beard shrugged, looked at his partner, then back to Fargo. “Nothin’ worth getting shot over.”
“Sensible,” Fargo said.
“We just keep track of the comings and goings at the mine.”
“The shipments, you mean.”
“Who the hell are you exactly?” the bald one snapped.
Red Beard snorted. “Skye Fargo? Sure you are. And I’m George Washington.”
“You can believe me or not. All I care about is finding out who hired you to sit on your lazy asses up here.”
The bald one said, “You really Skye Fargo?”
“I’m really Skye Fargo.”
“Well, hell,” Red Beard said. “If that’s the case, then I’ll tell you right off. Sarah Brant hired us.”
That rocked Fargo back a moment. It was not the answer he had been expecting.
“Not her father?”
This time both men shook their heads no.
“Does he know you’re up here?”
Red Beard said, “We’re just pickin’ up some wages, Fargo. We don’t ask no questions.”
“They wouldn’t tell us even if we asked,” the bald one agreed.
“What about Daniel Parker? Does he know you’re up here?”
The bald man said, “That kid is so under Sarah Brant’s skirts, I doubt he knows when the sun comes up.”
“Yeah, leads him around by the nose.”
Hearing that about Daniel made Fargo feel disgusted, and sad for his friend Cain. Clearly, Daniel hadn’t turned out to be the man Cain had hoped he would become.
“How long you two been working for Brant?”
“Three days,” Red Beard said. “We met her in Sacramento and she offered us a lot of money to take down a gold ore shipment she said was being stolen from her father’s rightful mining claim. She didn’t say anything about going up against you.”
Fargo nodded. After she had lost her last band of robbers willing to do her deeds, she had apparently decided to go for a little more talent. Fargo pointed over the edge. “Does that look like stealing from the Brant mine?”
Both men shrugged. The bald one said, “Fargo, we don’t know what goes on inside those mines. We were just hired to do a job.”
“Well,” Fargo said, “unless you have a desire to be dead real soon, you go down the mountain, get your gear and horses, and without a word to anyone about this conversation, you both ride out hard and fast.”
Both men nodded and just sat there.
Fargo stepped back and waved the Colt at them. “What are you waiting for? You have some hard riding to do and the day is still young.”
Both men scrambled to their feet and took off running toward the Brant mine. Neither of them looked back.
At the main house, Cain was having lunch by the time Fargo returned from his hike, so he joined him in his big dining room where it was clear he ate most meals alone. The walls were covered in a fancy wallpaper, the wood floor polished to mirror level, and a huge glass chandelier hung over the table, sparkling in the morning light.
“So, have a great hike?” Cain asked, pointing to the tray of sandwiches for Fargo to help himself.
“A productive one,” Fargo said, taking a thick beef sandwich from the tray. “I know how the robbers are pinpointing your ore shipments and who’s behind it.”
Cain stopped in midchew and stared at his old friend. “You’re kidding.”
Fargo bit into the sandwich, then, between bites and chewing, told Cain exactly what had happened, leaving out only the part about Daniel.
When he was finished, Cain slammed what was left of his sandwich down on his plate and stood, clearly very angry, as he paced near the head of the table. “It’s hard to believe any woman could be that ruthless.”
“I’m still not so sure her father isn’t pulling the main strings,” Fargo said. “I haven’t met him yet, but from everything I’ve learned, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with her.”
Cain nodded. “You’re right about that. You sure those two men you scared off aren’t going to say anything to Brant about what happened?”
“Yeah,” Fargo said. “They were new hires and had no loyalty to the Brant woman.”
“So, you think she’s going to send two others up there tomorrow morning?” Cain asked.
“More than likely. Once a snake, always a snake, and her little outlook post has worked so far.”
Cain asked the exact location and Fargo told him.
“Thanks, Skye. I’ll take care of that problem tomorrow morning.”
With that he stormed out of the dining room, leaving Fargo to finish his sandwich alone in the huge, formal room.
Fargo had no idea what Cain would do, and it was better he didn’t know. That was between two mine owners and their crews. Fargo’s job was on the trail.
Daniel had never lived at the mercy of a willful woman before and he didn’t like it. The few girls he’d known were sweet and straightforward. If they liked you, they told you so and it was that simple. And then they
like they liked you.
Daniel sat on the stump of a sawed oak, using his knife to whittle away at a small piece of a branch. Whittling usually calmed him. Usually. Right now, as he sat watching for Sarah Brant to come out of the house, he decided he needed something a lot more powerful than whittling to ease his temper and hurt feelings.
She’d charmed him into throwing in with her and her father, treating him as if they would be lovers forever. But, he was discovering, she paid attention to you when she wanted to. Otherwise it was as if you didn’t exist.
Half an hour ago he’d walked up to where she’d been sitting in a chair outside the house talking to one of the hired guns. He’d approached her to ask if he could see her alone. But her cold stare and the smirk of the gunny embarrassed him. It was clear he wasn’t wanted.
So now he sat about twenty yards from the house, waiting for her to come outside again. The gunny she’d been talking to had also been dismissed.
Everything was so damned confusing. He loved her—that was the terrible thing. He’d deserted his own father for her. But what was he going to get for his betrayal? Her treating him like a nuisance?
maybe she doesn’t realize how serious I am about her.
And then he felt better. Yes, that was it. Up till now he had enjoyed her as a lover but he’d been afraid to tell her how he felt. Maybe that would make all the difference. Maybe when she understood his feelings—
A sweet mountain breeze ruffled his hair and soothed his cheeks. He tossed the piece of branch away, closed his knife, and prepared himself to go up to her when she came out of the house again.
Then she was there. Sunlight dancing in her hair, her blue silk blouse tucked tightly into her black riding pants. Her rich body almost haughty as she stood with her hands on her hips.
He had just started to approach her when one of the other gunnies came from around the side of the house. He said something that Daniel couldn’t hear. She laughed with a passion that was almost sexual. He saw her put her hand fondly on the man’s arm. He’d never been jealous over a woman before and the feeling startled him. He wanted to draw down on the man, kill him. What right had this bastard to spend time with Daniel’s woman?
He cleared his throat loudly enough to get their attention. Her gaze was even colder than before. The man looked at him briefly and then went back to talking to Sarah. She laughed again. Daniel didn’t know if he could control himself. Rage, humiliation, pain.
The gunny stayed for five more minutes. Daniel knew how awkward he must look standing there watching them. But he felt paralyzed. He didn’t want to see it—didn’t want to see that she had lied to him— but he couldn’t move. Couldn’t turn away.
After the man was gone, Sarah turned and started back to the house. Daniel double-timed his way to her. Grabbed her roughly by the arm.
“You don’t have time for me but you have time for them?”
“Unless you want to get slapped very hard, take your damned hand off me. And right now.”
The harshness of her voice stunned him. He had the sense that she had just ended their relationship permanently. He pulled his hand away and said, “I’m sorry, Sarah. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“You’re damned right you shouldn’t have.”
“I just want to say something to you.”
She sighed impatiently. “Then go ahead. I need to get back inside.”
“I love you.”
And when she didn’t say anything, simply stared at him as if he’d spoken in a language she’d never heard before, he said: “Maybe I made a mistake. Throwing in with you, Sarah. I guess I’ll be heading out now.”
The panic in her eyes surprised him. Now it was her hand on his arm. “Oh, Daniel. Daniel, you misunderstood me. We need to talk this over in bed. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I really didn’t. It’s just that I have so much to do, I guess I don’t realize when I’m not treating you right.”