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Authors: Gary Franklin

Blood at Bear Lake

Table of Contents
 
 
OUTNUMBERED . . .
“They's no place for you to run, mister, so whyn't you give it up. We won't hurt you none. Just take that fine-lookin' horse and the mule. Take them an' whatever else you got.” He laughed. “But we won't touch a hair on your old gray head.”
Joe frowned. “Am I really starting to get some gray in my hair?”
“Damn you, mister, you ain't takin' us serious.”
“Why should I worry about a bunch of dead men?”
Howard turned to his brothers and shouted, “Get him, boys. Cut him good.”
Thomas started circling around Joe in one direction, Benjamin in the other. Joe suspected that their plan—one they must have used before with a successful outcome— was for the three of them to trap him in the center of a triangle so that his back had to be toward at least one of them at all times.
It was a perfectly good plan, he conceded. If he allowed them to carry it out . . .
Titles by Gary Franklin
MAN OF HONOR
THE MOTHER LODE
BLOOD AT BEAR LAKE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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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.
BLOOD AT BEAR LAKE
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with the author
PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley edition / August 2008
Copyright © 2008 by Gary McCarthy.
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eISBN : 978-0-425-22292-8
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1
A MAN WILL NOT keep his scalp very long in the mountains if he lacks patience. Patience was a trait Joe Moss learned as a young free trapper in the Rockies, and he still had it as a man in his early forties. He also still had his own scalp, no thanks to some.
Trapper, trader, freighter, miner, and sometimes fugitive, Moss had led a rough-and-tumble life and bore the scars to prove it. On the other hand, he had inflicted far more scars than ever he'd received. And he had taken a great many scalps over the years.
Now, newly married, with a wife whose whereabouts he did not know and with a daughter who was denied to him, Moss found himself in a tight spot. Literally.
In ducking away from a mob of hired assassins, he had plunged into what might well prove to be an inescapable trap.
After years of searching, Joe had finally reunited with the love of his life, Fiona McCarthy. In his absence, she had borne him a child, but while they were apart, Fiona was accused of murder. To protect her, she gave their four-year-old daughter, Jessica, to an order of nuns at St. Mary of the Mountain church in Carson City, Nevada.
Joe was with Fiona barely long enough to be legally married to her—an event they had not quite gotten around to before they were separated five years earlier—and to make an appearance outside the convent to reclaim their daughter. Fiona, and now Joe as well, were hated by the wealthy and powerful Peabody brothers, who wholly owned one of the top-producing mines on the Comstock Lode.
When Joe and Fiona reached the gates of the convent, they were immediately attacked by a paid mob of the Peabody thugs. Joe held the attackers off to give Fiona time to escape, but he was surrounded and greatly outnumbered.
Father O'Connor, the priest who oversaw both the church and the convent, offered Joe sanctuary, but the priest and Joe knew better than to think the mob would honor the age-old sanctuary of the altar. O'Connor shoved Joe into a tiny space carved out of solid rock, the entrance to which was concealed by a bookcase in the priest's private office.
Now Joe was trapped there, with a howling mob searching for him throughout the church and its outbuildings. Joe had only his Colt revolving pistol, his bowie knife, and his ever-present and fearsome tomahawk to defend himself.
He might as well have been weaponless. If he was discovered, neither bullets nor steel would be enough to extricate him from this trap.
Which suggested he damned well better
not
allow himself to be caught.
Joe checked his weapons, then silently investigated the limits of the artificial cave where he was trapped.
In pitch-dark, he felt his way to the back. Cold, slightly jagged stone was all his seeking hands encountered. The hole ran less than two paces deep, and was not quite high enough for Joe's six-foot-plus height to come fully upright. He could touch both side walls at the same time simply by extending his arms. The floor was uneven and littered with stone chips.
Joe had no idea why such a hole might have been carved from the rock. Perhaps it was to have been the start of a mine adit that was abandoned when no ore was discovered. Perhaps it was intended as a concealed storage place for church purposes that he could not imagine.
Whatever the reason, it would make a most uncomfortable coffin.
Joe had to get the hell out of there. Every moment he spent in there, Fiona was getting farther and farther away from him.
The last he saw of her was a tiny moving figure and a stream of dust raised by the hooves of her madly racing sorrel mare as she ran to escape her tormentors.
And, dammit, he did not know where she was bound.
He would follow her to the ends of the earth or to the end of his days, whichever came first.
But that would be after he got out of this miserable damned hole in the ground.
Joe sat gingerly, sweeping loose rock from under his butt, careful to make no noise while he did so. He leaned back against the stone wall and closed his eyes, willing his muscles to rest but concentrating his entire being on the faint sounds that came from the other side of that bookcase.
“. . . that sonuvabitch . . . we'll find . . . we do you'll pay, Priest . . . then we . . .”
The voice was not one Joe had heard before and he could not hear it clearly, but it was a voice he intended to remember. Perhaps it belonged to the last living Peabody brother—Joe had already killed the other two—but perhaps not.
Had he been sure it was Peabody himself who was speaking, Joe would have stepped out and killed the son of a bitch, inside a church or not. Killing the last Peabody might well be enough to call off the dogs who were after Fiona for a murder he was sure his gentle wife could never have committed, no matter what the Peabodys claimed.
But there were simply too many in the mob whose voices and boots he could hear out there. He could not kill them all, although he would have been glad to if that gave Fiona freedom from fear. Even if it meant his own death, Joe would gladly have leaped into the fray if he only was assured that Fiona would be free.
All he could do, dammit, was to sit there, slumped against the cold, gritty stone, and wait. And wait.
2
JOE WOKE WITH a start, aware that he had dropped off to sleep but with no notion of how long he had been sleeping. He was sure of one thing, though. It was long enough to fill his bladder. He had to take a piss that would float a boat.
Outside his hole in the rock, beyond the bookcase that concealed this spot, he could hear voices. Louder now than they had been and, he thought, closer.
“You're gonna tell us, you old son of a bitch,” someone snarled. “The boss wants t' know and you're either gonna tell us where he is or I'll cut your useless balls off.”
There was a muffled sound that might have been a slap, and then another.
“Tell us, damn you.”
Joe could hear mumbling. It was in the cadence of a prayer.
“Hold the old bastard still, Charlie, while I slice one o' his ears off'n his head,” the voice said.
There was a sound of scuffling and some more slaps, then a sharp cry.
“What? You don't think I'll do it, old man? You think your papist ways are gonna help you now? Dammit, Charlie, hold 'im still so's I can get a clean cut. I wouldn't want t' ruin his looks with a ragged cut, now would I? Them nuns wouldn't let him fuck 'em if I went an' made him ugly.”
Joe could hear laughter.
He could also hear his own blood coursing hot through his veins.

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