“But those two men who came up—”
She pressed herself against him, her soft breasts making his need for her almost frightening. He knew what had happened. He’d threatened to leave. He’d meant it. He hadn’t known what else to say or do. But he was obviously a part of her plan and she didn’t want to let him go.
In that moment, he knew that she was using him. That she didn’t give a damn about him at all.
And the terrible thing was he didn’t care. He’d take her on any terms he could have her.
“You won’t leave me, will you, Daniel?” she said, her warm breath like a balm on his neck.
“No,” he said. “No, I won’t leave you.”
Two days later, Cain was ready with another shipment into Sacramento.
So with a long and very tender kiss good-bye from Anne, Fargo again left her soft feather bed for the cold predawn air. Part of him regretted leaving; part of him felt good about being back on his big Ovaro stallion again, doing what he did best.
Fargo set up the guards and the wagon movement the same as the time before. He scouted ahead, watching for any activity or trap, staying wide of the road, often moving along a ridgeline above and ahead of the wagon.
After three dull hours of sitting his horse, rolling and smoking cigarettes and reliving some very pleasant memories of Anne, trouble finally struck around the middle of the afternoon.
One glance at the gunnies ready to rob the gold shipment told Fargo that the Brants had stepped up in the world. These were hardened killers, ready to do whatever was necessary to take the gold.
Ten of them.
Their plan was simple and hard to see coming. The Placerville road had a decent amount of traffic in the afternoon. Since Fargo had the gold shipment moving slowly to give him time to scout ahead, it had been passed numerous times by other wagons and men on horses.
As Fargo watched from a low ridge just over a rifle shot away, three men came riding up from behind the wagon, their rifles in sheaths, their guns on hips. They nodded hello to the men guarding the wagon and Cain even pulled the wagon slightly off to one side to let them pass.
Everything seemed fine, but Fargo had a gut sense it wasn’t, so he moved a little higher so he could keep an eye on the three for a little farther down the road.
And he had been right.
The three men went on ahead, moving at a normal pace around a bend in the approaching narrow canyon. Then Fargo caught a glimpse of them stopping their horses and dismounting where the road went between two rock ledges along a mostly dry streambed not far from the wagon at all, pulling carbines from their sheaths.
Fargo glanced back at Cain. The wagon would be on the bushwhackers before Fargo could get down the hill.
Fargo grabbed his Colt and fired into the air twice to get the wagon to stop and to warn his party as he headed down through the rocks toward them as fast as he could.
Suddenly, from the direction of Placerville, seven more men appeared and rode at the wagon hard and fast, guns drawn, dust kicking up behind their horses.
Cain had heard the warning shots and then heard the men pounding down on them from behind. He directed the team and wagon off the road and into some rocks. Then he and his men took cover as the robbers burst upon them.
It sounded like a small war going on as Fargo rode hard and fast for the fight, pushing his Ovaro over the rough ground. He had his carbine out and in his hand. All he had to do was get into range.
At the same time as the men on horseback were attacking the guards and Cain, the three men who had passed the wagon moved quickly back up the road to join in. Two of them saw Fargo coming and leveled shots at him, even though he was mostly out of range.
Suddenly, something hit his shoulder, the force stunning him. The impact spun him backward and off his horse, knocking the wind out of him as he hit the ground hard, facedown.
It took him a second through the echoes of gunfire to realize he had been shot. He gasped for air as stabbing pain coursed through him.
From what he could tell, the bullet had gone through his shoulder. He’d been shot before. He knew when a wound was bad and when it wasn’t. This one, if he got to a doctor soon enough, would be all right.
He ignored the pain and took the deepest breath he could to clear his head. Then he grabbed his handkerchiefand stuffed it against the wound, pushing hard against the intense pain to stop the bleeding.
He grabbed the Henry that had fallen beside him and crawled up on a boulder just enough to rest the carbine and get a shot at the men below.
From the looks of it, three or four of Cain’s men were still alive and fighting. Fargo couldn’t tell if one of them was his friend.
Fargo took another painful breath to calm himself, then pulled off a shot at a man working his way around behind the defenders. The man went over backward and Fargo slammed another shell into the chamber.
His next target was a man on a horse. This one spun off his mount and into a large rock as Fargo’s aim proved true.
Three of the robbers turned and fired at him, forcing him off the rock to get cover.
“Get the wagon,” one man shouted, his voice echoing up the hill. “Let’s get out of here.”
Fargo poked his head back up and took another quick shot at another robber. The man slumped to the ground like someone had cut off his legs. From the rocks, Cain’s other guards renewed their fire and took down another robber, but by now one man was on the wagon with the gold, heading the team down the road.
Fargo pulled off a shot at the driver, but his lead went into the buckboard seat beside the man, sending splinters flying. The driver ducked and pushed the team even harder. By the time Fargo could get another shot off, the man was out of range.
He was about to turn the Henry on one of the stragglers when he recognized him. It was Daniel, Cain’s son.
Fargo couldn’t believe that Daniel would rob his own father. How had the kid gone that bad that fast?
Fargo knocked the last robber beside Daniel off his horse with one last shot and let Daniel get away.
The robbery was over.
Fargo slumped to the dirt and leaned against the rock as he tried to catch his breath against the pain. This had gone wrong so fast, he couldn’t believe it. He had lost the gold, and who knew how many good men were dead down there?
Suddenly he realized he hadn’t seen Cain in the last few moments of that fight.
He whistled for the Ovaro, who showed up a moment later. Using his horse to steady himself as he stood, he managed to get mounted and slowly work his way down the hill, not really wanting to look at what lay ahead.
But he did.
Six of the ten bushwhackers were down. It looked like three of the six men from the mine were also down. And Fargo could see the three remaining men crouching beside a man in a red plaid shirt. Cain.
It took Fargo only a moment to get out of the rocks and to the road.
It turned out that two men were dead and Cain was seriously wounded. Fargo knelt beside his friend. Cain was out cold and his breathing was shallow from the wound in his upper chest. The men had already tried to stop the bleeding. Cain might live if they got him help.
Fargo stood, ignoring his own wound and pain.
The gold was gone. Daniel, Cain’s own son, had led the attack. Why would a good kid like Daniel turn on his own father? None of this made sense.
Fargo knew what he had to do. He turned to the three surviving guards and picked the biggest one, Hank, who seemed smart and had gun sense. Cain trusted Hank; now Fargo was going to trust the big man with Cain’s life.
“Hank, can you get him back to Placerville on your own if Cain’s on your horse?”
Hank glanced at his boss and nodded. “I can get him there in just over an hour.”
Fargo just hoped Cain would live that long.
“Good. Don’t take him to the mine. We need the Brants, who are the people behind all this, to think Cain has been killed.”
“That was Daniel with them as well,” Hank said, shaking his head. “Makes no damn sense.”
Fargo didn’t disagree. “Take Cain to the back door of the Wallace Hotel and ask for Anne. Tell her I told you to put Cain in my room and swear her to secrecy. Then get the doc to fix him up and swear the doc to secrecy as well. Then, if Cain makes it through, be darned sure he stays in that room until I get back there, even if you have to tie him to the bed. Guard him with your life. Understand?”
“Got it,” Hank said.
Fargo and the other three men turned back to work on Cain to get him ready to travel.
“Get that shirt off him, and his hat. Switch them with another man’s.”
They quickly followed his instructions. Cain moaned slightly as they boosted him up on Hank’s horse and tied him in sitting up behind Hank, making sure that his wounds weren’t bleeding badly. Both of Cain’s legs were roped to the saddle, and he had a rope tied around his stomach holding him tight against Hank. With a hat pulled down low over his face, no one would recognize him.
Cain moaned again as Hank started back up the road toward Placerville. Moaning was a good sign as far as Fargo was concerned. He didn’t want to think of what would happen if his good friend died.
Fargo then turned to the other two men, one of which was the big muscled kid named Walt. “Round up the horses and get these bodies to the morgue in Sacramento. Then report to Marshal Davis about what happened. Tell him I’ll be contacting him shortly. If he asks, or anyone asks, no matter who it is, Cain is dead. Understand?”
Both men nodded.
“Find a place to lay low and tell the marshal where you’ll be. Tell no one what happened. Don’t leave until I find you.” He handed both of them enough money to cover their rooms and a few drinks and meals, and again they both nodded.
With that, Fargo climbed up on his horse, ignoring the pain in his shoulder.
“Where are you headed?” Walt asked. “You need to get that shoulder looked at.”
The kid was right. At some point he was going to have to get his shoulder looked at and cleaned up. He’d do that in Sacramento.
“Right now I have a wagon to follow and a debt to settle. Just do as I ask and I’ll find you in Sacramento.”
With that, he turned and headed his horse down the trail after the wagon.
Fargo tracked the wagon down the road to within one mile of Sacramento. The three remaining robbers on horseback, including Daniel, seemed to be riding along beside or behind the wagon.
Fargo felt weaker with every passing mile and passing hour, and he could feel that his wound was bleeding again. He was going to need a doctor a lot sooner than he had thought.
The wagon trail branched and the wagon left the main road and headed south on a rarely used road that eventually led back up into the hills. One rider didn’t join the wagon, but instead headed into the city spread out below the ridge.
Fargo stared down the road, then at the city below him. It was getting toward dusk and the lights of the city were starting to come on as people lit up the lamps. He could hear the faint sounds of the saloons echoing over the water of the river.
Fargo sat at the intersection in the trail, studying the tracks. He was running out of light, and unless it rained, he could track that wagon tomorrow just fine. And more than likely there was some hideout up in the hills that the bushwhackers called their camp. He would settle the score with them tomorrow, after he was patched up some.
And he would find Daniel and ask him why he had done what he did. Why attack his own father, and maybe even kill him?
Fargo turned the Ovaro toward Sacramento, and within an hour, after making sure his horse was fed and taken care of, he was in the doctor’s office hearing the exact things every other doctor had told him over the years.
He was lucky to be alive.
He knew that.
If the lead had hit a little farther in one direction or another, it could have killed him.
He knew that as well.
He needed to rest.
He definitely knew that. Every bone and muscle in his body was shouting that at him.
Fargo just hoped the doctor in Placerville was telling Cain the same thing.
Fargo found a cheap hotel off to one side of town. He didn’t want to go back to where he and Cain had stayed last time. He needed to hide and to rest. He didn’t want Sarah Brant or anyone else to know he had survived just yet.
He barely remembered dropping on the bed and the next thing he knew the sun was burning through his eyelids. The town outside the window was slowly coming alive with the sounds of morning activity.
He eased himself up out of bed, wincing at the pain. It felt as if a cattle stampede had run over his body. He checked the wound on his shoulder where the bullet had gone in and then used a mirror to check the wound on his back where the bullet had left him. Neither wound had bled through the bandages, so for the moment he didn’t need to go back to the doctor.
He carefully moved his left shoulder around, feeling for any restriction in movement. Other than the pain from pulling on the wounds, it seemed that the doctor had been right and he had been lucky. The bullet hadn’t ripped any muscle or smashed any bone. It had just gone through him. In a week he wouldn’t even notice it much, besides the two new scars.
What he wished he could do was head back to Placerville, see if his good friend had survived, and let Anne tend to him in that big, soft feather bed of hers.
But that would come soon enough. Right now he had a score to settle. And he had to find Daniel.
He eased on a clean shirt that didn’t have blood and bullet holes, then buckled his Colt back to his hip and headed out. After a quick stop to check on the Ovaro, he headed for Marshal Davis’s office, keeping his hat down low over his eyes to try to avoid anyone recognizing him. At least one of the bushwhackers was in town somewhere and for the moment he wanted them thinking he might be dead, along with Cain. It would make them bolder and more careless in whatever play they were making for Cain’s mine.