Read Comstock Cross Fire Online

Authors: Gary Franklin

Comstock Cross Fire

Table of Contents
Holt cocked back the hammer of his Colt and aimed it at Joe's chest. “All right, Moss. Keep your hands up in the air and walk straight toward me.”
Joe knew that the man would not hesitate to kill him if he made the slightest wrong move. “You got me cold,” he said. “Just go easy on that trigger.”
“That's close enough,” Holt said when Joe was less than ten feet from him. “Did you really think that we'd give up the chase?”
“Nope,” Joe said. “I always knew that sooner or later it would come down to this. To just you and me.”
Holt's face was red, wet with perspiration, and plastered with sand where it had struck the dunes when his horse was shot. “If you weren't worth so much more to Mr. Peabody alive than dead, I'd blow a hole in you right now. I'd gut-shoot you so you'd flop down in this sand and die screaming. And maybe I would even scalp you before your last breath so you could taste a little of your own Injun medicine.”
Joe said nothing, but his mind was exploring every possible way he could kill this man before being tied hand and foot and taken to be hanged on the Comstock Lode . . .
Titles by Gary Franklin
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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, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley edition / December 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Gary McCarthy.
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eISBN : 978-1-440-64383-5
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AFTER REMOVING HER chains and shackles, Joe Moss held his wife, Fiona, as if she were as fragile as a piece of ancient Indian pottery. Beside him lay two unconscious bounty hunters who had been holding her hostage; Joe figured to kill and then scalp them just as soon as he got his woman settled down a mite.
“Fiona,” he whispered as she sobbed uncontrollably in his arms. “Please don't be cryin' so hard. What is done is done and what is to come will work out fine.”
me!” she sobbed, twisting away to glare at the two filthy men that Joe had knocked unconscious with his tomahawk. “They made me do disgusting things that . . . oh, Joe, I was prayin' to die. I . . .”
He crushed her in his arms. “Fiona, what is done is done, but there's a lot more that we're gonna have to face in the days to come.”
A long, ragged sigh rattled from Fiona's throat, and he smoothed her dirty red hair, remembering how it used to shine in the sunlight when he'd first met and fallen in love with her years ago on the California-bound wagon train. He'd spent so long trying to find her and their daughter, but every turn of the road seemed to have been the wrong one, and now . . . at last . . . they were together again. Both hurt badly, both scarred by others, yet still alive and still in love.
“Where are we?” she whispered, her body seeming so slight and frail against his powerful frame. “They blindfolded me. Kept me that way for what seemed like forever. I don't even know where I am, Joe! I don't know who I am anymore! I just . . .”
Fiona broke down in hysterics and her knees buckled. Joe Moss picked her up and stepped over the two unconscious men who lay bleeding from their severe head wounds. He started to carry his wife into the dugout, then caught the scent of what was inside and changed direction, moving toward a mound of hay out by the corral. Easing Fiona down on the fresh-mowed hay, he found a rag and then dipped it into the horse-watering trough. “You're all dirty now,” he explained as he gently washed Fiona's bruised and tear-stained face, “but I'm going to make you clean again.”
Fiona looked up at him and her eyes were so filled with sorrow that, for the briefest of moments, Joe Moss felt utter despair. He wondered if his wife's mind and spirit might finally have been broken beyond repair. Her next words only reinforced that dread.
“Joe, you can't wash away what those . . . those animals did to me these last few weeks. Not if you scrubbed me with lye soap for a hundred years, because nothing will
wash away the hideous things that they did to me!”
Joe desperately tried to find the right words to make her feel that someday she would feel clean and wholesome again, but the words just wouldn't come out. He was a mountain man, a loner, and not one gifted with words; he never had been and never would be. But staring into her green eyes and seeing all that pain told Joe that he had to try to help his woman, so he said, “Those two that used you so bad are waiting for a man named Ransom Holt.”
“I know. He's all that they talked about. They told me that Holt would chop off my head and put it in a wooden keg filled with spirits and then they'd . . .”
Fiona's entire body convulsed with horror. She covered her face and sobbed.
“Easy, easy” Joe crooned, feeling his throat well up so bad that he could hardly swallow. “It ain't your head that's gonna get chopped off and pickled in any barrel. It'll be the head of Ransom Holt. He's on his way here, paid by a rich Comstock Lode mine owner. He means t' bring back your pretty head pickled in a barrel. Only Mr. Peabody ain't goin' to get your head. It'll be Ransom's head, by gawd.”
Joe got Fiona settled down a little, and then he removed her dirty dress and laid her out naked to be washed. He remembered how her body had looked when he'd first tasted it on the Oregon Trail five years ago. Her body had been lush, smooth, virginal, and as white as freshly fallen snow. Now it was skin and bone, scarred and covered with bruises and festering. He saw bite marks and signs that she had been whipped. The sight of what had been done to his wife filled Joe with a fury he'd never known before. It was all that he could do not to grab his tomahawk and charge over to the two bounty hunters and hack them into bloody pieces.
Instead, Joe shook himself and got control. He managed to croak, “Fiona, is there any soap in that dugout?”
“No.” Her hand flew up and grabbed his collar and she cried, “Joe, can't you understand that soap won't wash away my sin? Nothing can wash away . . .”
He placed his forefinger on her lips and silenced that talk. “Fiona, you're my wife and we got a child to think of back in Virginia City. We got four-year-old Jessica Moss that's waitin' in that cold church convent for us to come back and claim her. We got t' be strong for our daughter or . . . or we'll never see her again. Neither of us.”
Fiona closed her eyes, and she seemed to gather some deep and hidden strength. “Yes, you're right. We have Jessica. But—”
“But what?” Joe asked, not wanting to know.
Fiona opened her eyes and stared up at Joe. “Bad luck seems to be our lot. Everything we do and everything we touch seems to go rotten or wrong. Maybe . . . maybe we should just let our daughter be raised by those sweet nuns at St. Mary's! Maybe if she becomes one of them someday, she'll never, ever have to suffer what we've suffered!”
Joe's voice hardened and he shook his shaggy head like a wolf tearing at frozen flesh. “Don't say that! Don't
say that again, Fiona. I'm Jessica's father and you're her mother. She
us. We'll get through all this and come out okay. And we'll raise Jessica, and maybe even more, to be strong and good.”
Fiona's chin dipped. “Can we do that, Joe? Can we ever get past all the evil that's come upon us and come to be good and strong? Become the kind of mother and father that Jessica deserves and should have?”
“Hell, yes, we can! We're already strong. And as for the bad luck, well, it changes.” He looked away and his voice fell to a hush. “At least, sometimes it can.”
“But can it for
?” There was urgency in her voice that went beyond desperation.
Joe didn't know the answer to her question, but Fiona desperately needed reassurance, so he squared his broad shoulders and declared, “Our luck already has changed t' the good, Fiona. If it hadn't, you wouldn't be alive and neither would I.”
“But Ransom Holt is coming and even if you kill him, Mr. Peabody will send someone to take his place. Mr. Peabody will always be sending someone to kill us. To chop off our heads and—”
“Don't!” Joe said, clenching his big fists and raising them high overhead. “Don't say any of that anymore. I'm gonna kill Ransom when he comes, and then I'm gonna take
head, pickle and pack it across the desert to Peabody. When I face that rich man in Virginia City, I'm gonna tear Ransom Holt's pickled head out by the hair and I'm gonna beat Peabody to death with that severed head!”

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