Outlaw Trackdown (Trailsman Series #389)

Outlaw Trackdown (Trailsman Series #389)

by Jon Sharpe
     
 

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ONE BAD BOY

After Skye Fargo is tossed in the pokey for brawling in the town of Horse Creek, the last thing he expects is the marshal to ask for his help. The notorious Cotton gang—led by a fifteen-year-old terror—has robbed the bank, and they have to be stopped. But the Trailsman doesn’t know that the young killer has a very special reason for

…  See more details below

Overview

ONE BAD BOY

After Skye Fargo is tossed in the pokey for brawling in the town of Horse Creek, the last thing he expects is the marshal to ask for his help. The notorious Cotton gang—led by a fifteen-year-old terror—has robbed the bank, and they have to be stopped. But the Trailsman doesn’t know that the young killer has a very special reason for riding wild—revenge.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780451467218
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/04/2014
Series:
Trailsman Series, #389
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
758,797
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
14 Years

Read an Excerpt

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.

Wyoming, 1861—where a young killer has gone on a spree and has Fargo in his gun sights.

It isn’t every day a man starts a brawl.

Skye Fargo had no intention of starting one when he stopped at the saloon in a sleepy little town called Horse Creek. He had a full poke after being paid for a scouting hitch with the army and figured to treat himself to a bottle of Monongahela, a card game, and a willing dove, not necessarily in that order.

So when he ambled into a whiskey mill called The Tumbleweed he wasn’t looking for trouble. He was looking for a good time.

Fargo strode to the bar and smacked it for service. Not that he need have bothered. Other than an old-timer sucking down bug juice like it was the elixir of life, the only other patrons were three townsmen playing cards.

The bartender waddled over and asked, “What’ll it be, mister?”

Fargo told him and fished a coin from his poke and plunked it down. “Quiet little town you have here.”

The bartender had turned to a shelf, and grunted.

“What do you do for excitement? Watch the grass grow?”

“Haven’t heard that one before,” the bartender said.

“Had much Indian trouble hereabouts?” Fargo wondered. The Cheyenne had been acting up recently. They’d had their fill of the white invasion and were raiding homesteads and attacking stagecoaches.

“Doesn’t everybody?” was the barman’s response.

“I’m not asking everybody,” Fargo said. “I’m asking you.”

The bartender selected a glass from a pile next to a dirty cloth and picked up the dirty cloth and wiped it. “Our problem ain’t Injuns. It’s outlaws. They’ve hit three farms in the past couple of months and struck the Overland stage and got away with the money box.” He set the glass on the bar and turned and chose a bottle.

Fargo picked up the glass. “You call this clean?” He wasn’t fussy but there was . . . something . . . crusted a quarter-inch thick on the bottom, and a few brown smudges besides.

“I just wiped it. You saw me.”

“It would be cleaner if I wiped it with my ass.”

“Here now,” the barkeep said indignantly. “You’re not funny.”

“Do you see me laughing?”

The man looked at Fargo and opened his mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it and held out his hand. “Give it to me. I’ll wash it.”

Fargo watched him dip it in a bucket of dirty water and then dry it with the dirty cloth. “You’re something,” he said.

“How’s that again?”

“Forget the glass. I’ll buy a bottle. One that hasn’t been opened.”

“First you want a clean glass and now you want a bottle,” the bartender grumbled. “I wish you’d make up your mind.”

“I just did.”

Fargo’s tone caused the barman to stiffen. “I don’t want no trouble. I’m just doing my job.”

“A goat could do it better.”

Turning to a shelf lined with bottles, the barkeep muttered, “You have no call to insult me.”

“The bottle,” Fargo said. “This year.”

“Damn, you are prickly.”

Fargo snatched the bottle and opened it himself and tilted it to his mouth. The burning sensation brought a welcome warmth and he could feel himself relax.

“Happy now?”

Just then the batwings creaked and in came half a dozen cowboys. Smiling and joshing one another, they strolled to the bar.

One of them bumped Fargo with his shoulder and went on talking to his pard. About to take a swallow, Fargo felt his arm jostled a second time and whiskey spilled onto his chin.

“. . . heard that calf when we branded it,” the cow nurse was saying. “It screamed just like a female, I swear.”

“Peckerwood,” Fargo said, and jabbed the puncher with his elbow so hard, it rocked the cowboy onto his bootheels.

“What the hell was that for?” the cowboy demanded, growing red in the face.

“You know damn well.” Fargo sleeved his chin with his buckskins. “Bump me again and I’ll lay you out.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

Fargo should have let it go. That’s what anyone with a lick of common sense would do. But the cowpoke’s smug smirk was like a slap to the face. Then there was the unwritten law that you never, ever jostled a man taking a drink. “I believe I will,” he said, and swung.

Fargo nearly always held a bottle or a glass in his left hand. He liked to keep his right hand free in case he had to resort to his Colt. Or, in this instance, his fist. He caught the cowpoke flush on the chin and sent him tottering against the others.

They squawked and cursed and caught their friend as he fell, and then held him and glared while he shook his head to clear it.

“Here now,” growled a tall drink of water in a high-crowned hat. “What’s this about, Floyd?”

“He hit me,” Floyd said.

“How come?”

“Damned if I know.”

“Liar,” Fargo said.

The tall one glanced at the barkeep. “What about it, Harvey? Why’d this Daniel Boone hit Floyd?”

Harvey grinned wickedly at Fargo and said with a straight face, “He’s half-drunk and on the prod.”

“I’ll show you prod,” Fargo said, and hit the barkeep on the side of the head with the bottle. It shattered and Harvey screeched and clutched at his ear.

“Get him, boys!” the tall puncher hollered.

And just like that, Fargo was in cowboys up to his armpits. They came in a rush, cursing and swinging wildly, nearly tripping over one another in their eagerness. If they’d had the brains to surround him, the fight would have been over then and there. But they didn’t, enabling him to skip out of reach and move wide of the bar so he had plenty of room.

“I’ve got him!” a cowpoke cried, and let loose with what he must have reckoned was a haymaker.

Fargo ducked, countered with a left uppercut and a right cross, and had the satisfaction of seeing the cowhand go down like a poled ox. But there were still five left and they were plenty mad. Three pounced at once. He stopped one with a straight arm to the mouth, another with a jolt to the gut, the third by kicking him in the knee, and when the cowboy doubled over, kneed him in the face.

“He fights dirty!” one shouted.

“Pound the son of a bitch!” another urged.

Everything became a blur of fists and arms and faces furious with bloodlust.

Fargo was a tornado. Blocking, weaving, dodging, punching, he more than held his own.

A chair crashed to the floor. A table was tipped over. Two more punchers were sprawled on the floor and Fargo tilted another onto his toes and cocked an arm to stretch him out, too.

Suddenly the back of his head exploded with pain. A wave of darkness swallowed him and he was vaguely aware of the floor rushing up to meet his face.

The next thing Fargo knew, someone was whistling. He heard it as if from the end of a tunnel. A pale light appeared and he climbed toward it and grimaced when his eyes blinked open.

He was on his back on a cot in a jail cell. The cot had a musty smell and the cell was in shadow save for a shaft of sunlight split by the bars in a small window.

The whistler was over at a desk, his boots propped up, a tin star pinned to his shirt.

Fargo raised his head and gingerly felt the goose egg that had sprouted. His hat was on the floor and he slowly sat up, carefully jammed it on, and stood. For a few seconds the cell swayed. Or he did. “You didn’t have to hit me so hard.”

The man at the desk jumped as if he’d been pricked with a knife. His boots smacked down and he rose and ambled over, grinning. He wasn’t much over twenty, with hair the color of corn, and freckles, no less. “Heck, mister. It weren’t me that clubbed you. It was the marshal.”

Fargo moved to the bars. “How long have I been in here?”

“Not long at all. Wasn’t twenty minutes ago that those cowpokes from the Lazy J carted you in. The marshal made them do it and gave them a talkin’ to about disturbin’ the peace and fined them each ten dollars. They weren’t happy about that, let me tell you.”

“Why aren’t they in here with me?”

“Harvey over at the saloon told the marshal that you were the troublemaker, not them.”

“As soon as I’m out, I’ll go have a talk with Harvey,” Fargo promised himself.

“You’d best behave if you know what’s good for you.” The freckles shifted as the man smiled. “I’m Deputy Wilkins, by the way. Pleased to meet you.”

Fargo squinted and saw that he was serious. “Who is this marshal you keep jabbering about?”

“Marshal Coltraine,” Deputy Wilkins declared with considerable pride. “Luther Coltraine. Could be you’ve heard of him.”

Fargo had, in fact. Coltraine was considered one of the best. A Texan, he’d tamed the town of Brazos, the most violent nest of hard cases on the border, some said. Other towns, too. But all of them in Texas. “What is Luther Coltraine doing way up here in Wyoming Territory?” Or so some were calling it even though the legislature hadn’t gotten around to making it official yet.

“Why wouldn’t he be? Our town needs a lawman like everywhere else.”

“When do I get out?”

“That’s not up to me,” Deputy Wilkins said. “You have to ask the marshal.”

Fargo gazed at the otherwise empty office. “And where might he be?”

“Probably off visitin’ his gal.” Deputy Wilkins lowered his voice as if afraid of being overheard. “Between you and me, he’s taken a powerful likin’ to a certain young filly.”

“You don’t say.” Fargo had no hankering to stay behind bars any longer than he had to. “Why don’t you fetch him so I can pay my fine and get out of here.”

“I couldn’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Bother the marshal when he’s courtin’? That’d hardly be po-lite.” Deputy Wilkins grinned. “Would you like somethin’ to eat instead? I have some crackers. And I’ve got prune juice to wash ’em down.”

“You are a marvel,” Fargo said. “But no, thanks.”

“The prune juice is fresh. My ma made it for me. She says that nothin’ cleans a man out like prunes.”

“Any chance I could have some whiskey?”

“You’re joshin’, right?”

“I was afraid of that.” Fargo sighed and moved to the cot and sat.

“The marshal shouldn’t be gone more than an hour or so,” Deputy Wilkins said. “He does his serious courtin’ at night and right now it’s the middle of the day.”

“Just a glass,” Fargo said. “Half full.”

“No and no. I never yet heard of a jail that gives its prisoners whiskey.”

“Too bad,” Fargo said. His head was pounding like a blacksmith’s hammer. “It would help dull the pain.”

“You’re hurtin’?”

“It wasn’t a love tap your marshal gave me,” Fargo informed him, and closed his eyes. He figured he might as well catch up on his rest since he couldn’t do anything else.

“I hate it when folks hurt,” Deputy Wilkins said. “My ma always says that when people hurt, you should help them.”

“Does she, now?” Fargo responded, wishing the deputy would go away so he could sleep.

“You know what? If I give you some, do you give me your word you won’t tell the marshal?”

From behind Deputy Wilkins came a growled, “Tell me what?”

Deputy Wilkins jumped so high, it was a wonder he didn’t hit the ceiling. Fargo almost laughed but then he got a good look at the man behind Wilkins and he sobered right quick.

Some lawmen didn’t look the part. Wilkins, for one. Once Fargo met a sheriff who resembled a plump turkey. Another time, it was a pasty pastry roll who would have been content to sit in his office day in and day out, stuffing his face with sweets.

Marshal Luther Coltraine looked the part. He was tall, even taller than Fargo, and his shoulders were just as wide. He had a powerful chest any man would envy, and a face that looked as if it had been chiseled from granite. His eyes were a striking green. On his hip was a pearl-handled Smith & Wesson. His badge was pinned to a black leather vest that matched his black hat.

“Marshal!” Deputy Wilkins bleated.

“I asked you a question,” Coltraine said with as thick a Texas drawl as Fargo ever heard. “What were you fixin’ to give the prisoner?”

Wilkins coughed and fidgeted and said barely loud enough to hear, “Whiskey.”

Coltraine’s jaw muscles twitched. “What’s my rule?”

“No liquor, ever,” Deputy Wilkins said, and went on in a rush, “But it’s for medicinal purposes. He’s got a lump on his head from that wallop you gave him.”

“And you figure to get him so drunk he won’t feel the pain?”

“No, sir,” Wilkins said quickly. “I was only goin’ to give him half a glass.”

“Not if you like your job, you’re not. Don’t ever let a prisoner talk you into doin’ somethin’ you shouldn’t.” Marshal Coltraine strode to the cell and Wilkins couldn’t skip aside fast enough. “What do you have to say for yourself, mister?”

“I want out,” Fargo said.

“I bet you do. But that’s not goin’ to happen until I say it is.”

“I’m a scout . . .” Fargo began.

“I figured as much, how you’re dressed. So what?”

“So I just came from Fort Laramie and was minding my own business when those cow nurses jumped me.”

“That’s not how they tell it, and the barkeep backs their story. Harvey says you were lookin’ for trouble from the moment you walked in.”

“Harvey will have some trouble of his own once I’m out,” Fargo vowed a second time.

“Talk like that will keep you in here for a month of Sundays.”

“Damn it, Marshal . . .”

Coltraine held up a big hand. “Cussin’ me won’t help your cause any, either. You’re too hotheaded for your own good.”

Fargo bit off a sharp retort. He might as well face the fact that unless he did as the lawman wanted, he’d be lucky to get out before Christmas.

“What’s your handle?”

Fargo told him.

The marshal looked him up and down and said, “Heard of you. They say you’re one of the best trackers alive.”

“I’ve had some practice,” Fargo said.

“I also hear tell you’ve had a lot of practice drinkin’ and playin’ cards and dallyin’ with doves.”

Fargo was sure he caught the hint of a grin, which was encouraging. “I admit I am fond of dallying.”

Coltraine chuckled. “I’ve done a bit of it my own self.”

“You’ve done what now, Marshal?” Deputy Wilkins asked.

Coltraine glanced at him as if he’d forgotten he was there. “Go to the general store and buy us some coffee. We’re plumb out.”

“Coffee? At this time of day? Usually you have it in the mornin’.”

“Our guest here will need some to clear his head.”

Deputy Wilkins scratched his. “I must have missed somethin’. When did he go from prisoner to guest?”

“When I say he did. Now scat.”

Thoroughly confused, the deputy and his freckles departed in a hurry. As he went out he said, “I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

Marshal Coltraine sighed. “He’s next to worthless but he’s the only one who applied for the job so I’m stuck with him.”

“If you don’t mind my saying,” Fargo said, “this seems a strange place to find a man of your caliber.”

“What a nice thing to say,” Coltraine said, genuinely flattered. “They offered it to me and I took it. But you’re right. Horse Creek ain’t Texas. Most days it’s so peaceful, you’d swear you can hear the dust blow down the street.”

“And you like it that way?” Fargo asked in mild surprise. Accounts had it that Coltraine was a real fire-breather who thrived on living on the razor’s edge. The sort of hombre who would walk into danger without batting an eye.

Coltraine shrugged. “It’s a living.” He turned and stepped to a peg on the wall and grabbed a large key ring with only one key. Inserting the key into the cell door, he twisted, and at the loud click, pulled the door wide. “Come out and have a seat.”

Fargo was glad to. He figured the lawman was about to let him go. “Do I owe the saloon anything for damages?”

“Nothin’ was busted, so no. But there’s a forty dollar fine for disturbin’ the peace,” Coltraine said.

“The cowboys only had to pay ten.”

“Answer me true. Did you take the first swing or did they?”

Fargo didn’t hesitate. “Me.”

“Then it’s forty dollars and be thankful I don’t want more.”

“Don’t I go up before a judge first?”

“The judge is off fishin’. I’ll collect it for him and you can leave inside the hour.”

“Why wait that long?” Fargo wanted to climb on the Ovaro and light a shuck.

Coltraine sat at his desk, opened a bottom drawer, and took out a half-empty bottle of whiskey. He set it in front of him and said, “Interested?”

“I thought you sent freckles for coffee?”

“That or this,” Coltraine said. “Your choice.”

“It’s no choice at all,” Fargo said, and grinned.

Coltraine produced a glass and poured three fingers worth and skid it across. “This will clear your head a lot faster than coffee.”

“I’m obliged.” Fargo tossed it off and winced at a spike of pain. “How hard did you hit me, anyhow?”

“It was a good rap. A fella gets the knack for pistol-whippin’ after he’s worn a badge for a spell.” Coltraine didn’t bother with the glass. He savored a long swig and let out a contented sigh. “Nothin’ better for washin’ down the dust.” He returned the bottle and the glass to the bottom drawer and closed the drawer.

“So I can go?”

“You’re forgettin’ the forty dollars.”

Fargo reached for his poke, and froze. It wasn’t there. He groped his buckskins and exploded with an oath.

“Lookin’ for this?” Coltraine reached under his vest.

Fargo hefted it. He would swear it was lighter than it had been when he paid for his bottle in the saloon. Undoing the tie string, he fished inside. He wasn’t about to come right out and accuse the lawman of helping himself, but if he had to guess without looking, he’d say a double eagle and some other coins were missing.

As if he sensed what Fargo was thinking, Coltraine said, “That’s what was in it when I took it off you.”

Fargo wondered if one of the cowboys could have palmed a few coins before the lawman carted him off. But if that was the case, why hadn’t the puncher taken the whole poke?

“As soon as you pay you can be on your way,” Coltraine told him. “No goin’ back to the saloon, though. No goin’ anywhere except out of town.”

“Fine by me.”

“Don’t take it personal. Those cowhands are still in town and seein’ you might stir them up.” The lawman spread his big hands on the desk. “I like a quiet town, Fargo. As quiet as can be.”

Just then Horse Creek rocked to the blasts of gunfire.

“What the hell?” Marshal Luther Coltraine blurted as more gunshots boomed.

Fargo was already out of his chair. He was turning toward the door when he realized that, in the first place, it was the marshal’s business, and in the second, he didn’t have his Colt.

Somewhere a woman screamed.

Coltraine still sat there as if in shock.

“You might want to see what the ruckus is about,” Fargo said.

The lawman pushed to his feet and came around the desk. He was halfway to the front door when it burst open and in spilled Deputy Wilkins looking stricken and out of breath.

“Marshal! Marshal! The bank is bein’ robbed. It’s the Cotton brothers and those others!”

Coltraine stared out the door but didn’t move until another scream galvanized him into drawing his Smith & Wesson and hurrying out. Wilkins dogged him like a puppy.

Fargo moved to the window.

Up and down the street, panic reigned. People scurried every which way. Two bodies lay sprawled in spreading pools of scarlet.

About a block and a half away stood the Horse Creek bank. Fargo had to crane his neck to see it. A frame wood building like all the rest, it had a hitch rail out front. Four horses were next to it but hadn’t been tied off. On two other mounts were men with pistols, one facing up the street, one down it. Even as Fargo looked, the man facing his way pointed his six-shooter and fired at a store owner who had appeared holding a shotgun. The owner grabbed at his chest and toppled.

The two outlaws on horseback were holding the good citizens of Horse Creek at bay while their pards robbed the bank.

Marshal Coltraine raised his Smith & Wesson but the same outlaw spotted him and snapped a shot and Coltraine ducked behind a water barrel. Deputy Wilkins stuck to him like glue.

That was when the four outlaws who had gone into the bank rushed out again. Two carried burlap bags. A third had a rifle and he began spraying lead at anything that moved.

The last was the youngest. He had a six-gun in one hand and was pulling a woman after him. She fought, trying to break free, but couldn’t stop him from hauling her to a horse. He barked something at the man with the rifle and together they seized her and flung her up.

“Amanda!” Deputy Wilkins cried. He started to stand but Marshal Coltraine yanked him down just as the outlaw facing that end of the street snapped a shot at them.

A townsman charged out of a house and commenced to fire a rifle like a madman. He got off four or five shots before the outlaw shot him in the head.

The rest scrambled to mount. A horse spooked by the din kept shying. The outlaw trying to climb on got hold of the saddle horn but couldn’t swing up.

The young one shouted at him, and gestured, and the young one and the other five took off up the street.

In sudden desperation the last outlaw managed to clamber on and reined after them.

Marshal Coltraine stepped into the open and took deliberate aim. He had a clear shot but he didn’t shoot. Instead, Coltraine scowled and jerked his revolver down.

To the thunder of hooves, the outlaws fled.

Only when the hoofbeats faded and silence fell did Horse Creek stir. People came out of buildings and from behind corners and gazed about in disbelief. A woman broke into tears.

Fargo went outside. The lawman hadn’t moved and the deputy was fidgeting like a hound dog eager to take up the scene.

“Marshal?” Wilkins said. “Marshal?”

Coltraine shoved the Smith & Wesson into his holster and moved toward the bank.

An elderly woman hurried to the body of an elderly man and sank to her knees and let out a wail.

Fargo drifted down the street with a lot of others. Many were in a daze. One man kept saying over and over, “Did you see that? Did you see that?”

Marshal Coltraine was almost to the bank when a portly man in a suit stumbled out. He was bald and his pate glistened red from a gash above his ear. He had a hand to the wound and clutched at the empty air with the other as if for support. Coltraine caught him before he could fall.

“It was the Cotton Gang,” someone exclaimed.

“They rode in as brazen as anything,” said someone else.

“That Hoby Cotton,” said yet another, “taking Amanda Brenner with them like he done.”

“We’ll hang him,” declared a fourth. “Him and that whole wild bunch, and good riddance.”

The portly man had gripped Coltraine’s shirt. “They took her! They took my daughter!”

“I saw, Mr. Brenner,” Coltraine said.

“What are you waiting for? Go after them. They can’t have gotten far. You have to save her. Do you hear me? Save her!” That last was a near-hysterical appeal that ended with a gasp as the portly man passed out.

A townsman carrying a black medical bag ran up.

The marshal and his deputy entered the bank and not half a minute later Wilkins reappeared supporting a middle-aged woman so shaken, she couldn’t walk unaided. He steered her toward the marshal’s office. As they went past Fargo, Deputy Wilkins glanced at him and sadly shook his head.

Fargo spied the cowboys he had clashed with over in front of the saloon. They paid him no mind. A couple of the punchers had unlimbered their six-shooters during the fracas but hadn’t used them.

Marshal Coltraine came out of the bank looking mad enough to kill. “They shot the teller, Ed Zeigler,” he said to the doctor, who was tending to Brenner.

“I’ll see to him next,” the sawbones said.

“No need,” Coltraine said. “His brains are splattered all over the teller’s cage.” He paused. “How bad is Mr. Brenner?”

“He was struck over the head,” the doctor said. “Beyond that, I won’t know until I get him to my office and examine him.”

Coltraine moved from body to body, making sure they were beyond help, then strode over to Fargo. “Come with me.”

“So much for peace and quiet,” Fargo said, falling into step beside him.

“If that was a joke it was in poor taste.”

“I’d like to pay the forty dollars and be on my way.”

“Was that another joke?”

“You’re fixing to rustle up a posse and go after them,” Fargo figured. “I don’t want to be stuck here until you get back.”

“You won’t be,” Coltraine said. They reached the office and he stopped and stared up the street in the direction the outlaws had gone. “When I go after them, you’re comin’ with me.”

“How’s that again?” Fargo said.

The marshal ignored him and went in.

In a chair by the desk the middle-aged woman shook and sniffled. Deputy Wilkins was patting her lightly on the shoulder and saying, “There, there, Mabel. There, there.”

Coltraine motioned for Wilkins to move aside and squatted next to the chair. Clasping one of the woman’s hands in his, he said gently, “Mabel? I need to ask you some questions. Are you able?”

Mabel sniffled some more, and nodded. “It was horrible. Just horrible. They barged in, shouting and waving their guns.”

“Tell me everything,” the lawman said. “What they did. What they said.”

“I was at my desk preparing a letter Mr. Brenner needs to send to Cheyenne when that awful Hoby Cotton and his brothers and that Timbre fellow with the scar stormed right in. Mr. Brenner was in his office with Amanda and came out and demanded to know what the uproar was about. And do you know what Hoby Cotton did?”

“I wasn’t there,” Coltraine said.

“He shot poor Ed Zeigler in the head and laughed and said that Mr. Brenner should guess.” Mabel dabbed at her nose with a sleeve and the marshal took a folded handkerchief from a pocket and gave it to her.

“When you can, go on.”

Mabel nodded. She blew her nose and said, “Sorry,” and crumpled the handkerchief in her lap. “Anyway, Mr. Brenner moved toward Ed, and Hoby Cotton hit him with his six-shooter. Then Hoby shook him and told him to open the safe but Mr. Brenner refused. Even with blood streaming down his head, Mr. Brenner looked that ruffian right in the eye and refused.”

“Brenner was lucky Cotton didn’t shoot him.”

“Hoby almost did. But then Amanda came running, yelling at him to leave her father alone. And do you know what that monster did next?”

Coltraine waited.

“He grabbed Amanda and shoved his gun in her face and told Mr. Brenner that if he didn’t open the safe, he’d do to her as he’d just done to Ed.”

“So Brenner opened the safe.”

“What else could he do?” Mabel said. “See his daughter gunned down in front of his very eyes?” She shed more tears and sniffled. “Mr. Brenner went to the safe and opened it. He had to do it quickly, too, because Hoby had pulled back the hammer on his revolver and was saying as he’d by-God do it if Brenner didn’t move faster.”

“How much did they get?”

“I don’t know. Only Mr. Brenner would,” Mabel answered. “They stuffed some burlap sacks with everything from the safe and the teller’s drawer and even rifled my drawers looking for more. Then that Timbre, who was looking out the door the whole time, said as how he saw you and the deputy and that people were coming from all over and they’d best fan the breeze. And they left.”

“Did the others say anything? Hoby’s brothers, for instance?”

“I didn’t pay much attention to them. It was Hoby Cotton I was watching.”

“Think, Mabel,” Coltraine urged. “It’s important. They might have let drop some clue to where they’re headed.”

“I don’t recall a word about that,” Mabel said. “And if you head right out after them, you won’t need a clue. All you’ll need is a good tracker.”

“I’ve already thought of that,” Coltraine said, and looked over at Fargo.

“Hell,” Fargo said.

Coltraine squeezed Mabel’s hand and stood. “Deputy Wilkins will take you back to the bank. Do what you can to get me a tally on how much they stole.”

“Why is that so important?”

“It just is.” Coltraine eased her out of the chair and guided her to the door, where Deputy Wilkins took over and escorted her from the office.

“I have to attend to the bodies and go talk to the banker,” Coltraine said. “Stay put until I get back.”

“Hold on,” Fargo said. “I didn’t volunteer to track for you.”

“You’re doin’ it whether you want to or not.”

“You can’t force me.”

“You did see them take the girl? She’s only eighteen. And you know what they’ll do to her.”

Fargo frowned. “She’s the only reason I’d agree. But I’d like to be asked.”

“Fair enough. I’m askin’. But you still have to pay your fine.” Coltraine opened the door. “Your Colt is in the middle drawer on the left. We leave in half an hour.”

“The sooner, the better. Every minute you waste . . . ”

“I know,” Coltraine said gruffly, and was gone.

Fargo reclaimed his Colt and made sure five pills were in the wheel. He spun it a few times and twirled it into his holster and patted it. Going out, he watched as a buckboard rattled around a corner and several men prepared to load the bodies.

A pall of gloom had settled over the town and every face was either downcast or stamped with fury.

Deputy Wilkins returned and asked where the marshal had gotten to. “This is terrible, just terrible,” he remarked. “Amanda is the sweetest gal anywhere. If that Hoby Cotton touches her . . .” He stopped and balled his fists.

“There were six of them,” Fargo said.

Wilkins absently nodded while watching a body being lifted. “Hoby Cotton and his brothers, Granger and Semple. Then there’s Timbre Wilson, Abe Foreman, and Rufus Holloway.”

“You know all their names?”

“I should. They’ve been terrorizin’ the territory for goin’ on half a year now. They’re snake mean, every mother’s son. That Hoby is the worst. He’s killed four men that the marshal and me know of.”

“Why isn’t he behind bars or been hung?”

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