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Authors: Jon Sharpe

Six-Gun Gallows

BOOK: Six-Gun Gallows
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Table of Contents
 
 
MOVE OR DIE!
“All right, folks, I know it's hard for you, but we have to get a wiggle on. If you rehitch some of the teams, there should be at least one ox for every wagon.”
Nobody moved, not wanting to leave the grave. Most stood still as stone lions, staring at the new mound of dirt. Fargo hated to get rough with them, but there was no other way to save them.
“Damn it, people, stir your stumps!” he snapped. “What's done is done. Do you want the children to die, too?”
That finally goaded them into action. Feeling like a brutal mine foreman, Fargo began helping the women with their teams. But he vowed to move heaven and earth—if that was what it took—to punish every murdering son of a bitch who had attacked these helpless innocents.
SIGNET
Published by New American Library, a division of
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices:
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 
First Printing, June 2010
 
The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
Texas Hellions,
the three hundred forty-third volume in this series.
 
Copyright © Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2010
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-19791-2
 
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
 
 
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
 
PUBLISHER'S NOTE
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.
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The Trailsman
Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.
The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.
Southwest Kansas Territory, 1860—
where “Bleeding Kansas” earns its name in spades
when Skye Fargo cleans out an outlaw hellhole.
1
The Ovaro suddenly gave his trouble whicker, and Skye Fargo, naked as a newborn, shook water from his eyes as he hustled out of the chuckling creek and onto the grassy bank.
His gun belt hung from the limb of a scrub oak, and he filled his hand with blue steel. He clapped his hat on, not wanting to die totally naked. Then he knocked the rawhide riding thong off the hammer and thumb-cocked his single-action Colt.
“Steady, old warhorse,” he soothed the nervous pinto stallion. “Let's have a squint—might be just a stray buffalo spooking you.”
Staying behind the stunted tree, Fargo used his left hand to clear his vision of leaves. His face was tanned hickory nut brown above the darker brown of his close-cropped beard. Eyes the bottomless blue of a mountain lake peered out from the shadow of his broad white plainsman's hat.
Fargo's first glimpse was the infinite vista of the western Kansas Territory plains, so vast and boundless that many men lost their confidence for feeling so dwarfed in it.
A heartbeat later, however, his blood iced when he saw that trouble was boiling to a head.
About a quarter mile north of his well-hidden position at the creek, a small group of pilgrims—perhaps seven families—were traveling west. Fargo recognized their sturdy wagons as the type made famous in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And the men's clergy-black suits, the women's crisp white starched bonnets, told him they were Quakers.
Pacifists, out here of all places. Fargo mocked no man for his heartfelt religious convictions and tended to like the hardworking, charitable Quakers. But this was the wrong place to turn the other cheek.
And most definitely the wrong time, he thought, watching a boiling yellow-brown dust cloud approaching from the Cimarron River to the north—a large group of riders, and only iron-shod horses would kick up that much dust. Large groups of riders, anywhere in the Kansas Territory, meant hell would be coming with them. This wasn't called Bleeding Kansas for nothing.
“You damn, thick-skulled fools,” Fargo said in frustration as he pulled on his buckskin shirt and trousers, then his triple-soled moccasin boots. “This ain't Fiddler's Green out here.”
Fargo knew there had been settlement going on for some time in the eastern half of the territory, but lately he had seen more pilgrims like these pushing way too far west—well beyond the U.S. Army's protection line. Just some stubborn and isolated homesteaders trying to prove up government land, without permission, in rain-scarce country better suited for grazing.
The Quakers, having spotted the approaching riders, had reined in their teams of oxen. But since defending themselves was not an option, they took no further action—merely waited patiently for whatever fate befell them.
By now Fargo's stomach had fisted into a knot. The riders were close enough that he recognized their butternut-dyed homespun clothing. Border ruffians . . . organized gangs of supposed anti-slavers who clashed with the “pukes,” similar gangs from Missouri who used pro-slavery rhetoric as a thin excuse to terrorize settlers.
Fargo had waltzed with both factions before: kill-crazy marauders of no-church conscience.
But usually, he reminded himself, they were found well east of here, where the settlers and towns were. This was a long distance from their usual range—a fact that piqued Fargo's curiosity.
“Something ain't jake here, old campaigner,” he told the Ovaro, his voice calming the nervous stallion.
First Fargo heard the warbling cries as the attackers moved in, then the sickening sound of a hammering racket of gunfire. Men frantically pushed their women and children into the wagon beds as bullets dropped some of the oxen in their traces.
At least thirty riders, Fargo estimated, all well-heeled and liquored up. And he knew damn well these mange pots could take a human life as casually as shooing off a fly. Many had developed a taste for killing during that slaughterfest known as the Mexican War.
After killing a number of the oxen, they took aim at the butcher beef and milk cows tied to the tailgates of the wagons. Fargo's face etched itself in stone when they next killed every adult male, then pulled some of the screaming girls from the wagons and gang-raped them—innocent girls who had never experienced violence in their lives.
But Fargo stayed hidden despite the anger roiling his guts. It was one of the ugliest scenes he had ever witnessed, but there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it—not now.
He had learned long ago never to push if a thing wouldn't move. He would gladly risk his life to help any man—and especially a woman or child—if there was even the slimmest chance of success. Revealing himself now, however, would simply make him part of the slaughter. Fargo preferred to survive so he could avenge it.
And he vowed that he would. He had been on his way to the sand-hill country of the northern Nebraska Panhandle country, hired by the U.S. Army to be a fast-messenger rider between military outposts there. But the army could wait—no man worth the name could turn his back on this.
The grisly nightmare was over in about fifteen minutes. At least the marauders hadn't killed any women or children. When the attackers had cleared out, after only quickly looting the wagons, Fargo untied the Ovaro's rawhide hobbles and vaulted into the saddle.
“Jesus, I could use a drink,” he informed the landscape as he cleared the scrub oaks and cantered the Ovaro toward the scene of devastation.
The sights—and especially the god-awful sounds—forced Fargo to all his reserves of strength. The survivors had gathered around dead and dying men, their cries piteous. Girls who had been brutally raped lay in wide-eyed shock, young children bawled like bay steers, frightened out of their wits. Despite his best effort, Fargo misted up.
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