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Wagons West ARIZONA!
By Dana Fuller Ross
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 1988 Book Creations, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWind stirred the sparse, dry clumps of brush dotting the desert landscape as Luke Fergus rode toward a gaunt, boulder-strewn mountain in the distance. It was a mild day for this part of the Arizona Territory, with the torrid summer heat starting to give way to the cooler temperatures of autumn, but sweat streamed down Fergus's face.
A drifter who found occasional jobs here and there, Fergus was not a brave man, but before him lay an ordeal that would try the courage of the most dauntless hero. The scourge of northern Mexico, as well as of Arizona Territory now that most of the U.S. Cavalry had been withdrawn from the region, were the comancheros. Consisting of motley bands of renegade Indians, Mexicans, and outlaws from north of the border, they were more savage than the most warlike Indian tribes. And Fergus was on his way to meet the leader of the largest and most feared band of comancheros anywhere—a man known as Calusa Jim.
Three vultures circled lazily in the cloudless sky over the mountain, and Fergus eyed them with the uneasy feeling that they might be an omen of what awaited him. The promise of money that had drawn him here now seemed much less alluring. As he neared the base of the mountain, he turned his horse toward the mouth of a narrow ravine.
Two men with rifles at the ready suddenly stepped into view from behind boulders, startling Fergus. One looked like a Mexican, and the other was fair-haired, but both were ragged and filthy. Fergus reined up and swabbed sweat from his face with a sleeve. "Howdy," he greeted the men, trying to sound cheerful. "It ain't as hot today as it has been, is it?"
The two sentries merely stared at him, and at last one of them motioned him on with a wave of the rifle barrel. Fergus cleared his throat nervously as he entered the ravine. After a while it opened out into a wide arroyo that was crowded with some eighty men lounging around fires after their midday meal, their horses picketed nearby. Movement and conversation ceased as everyone stared at Fergus. He felt like a rabbit that had stumbled into a coyote den.
A mixture of Indians and whites, the men were as grimy as the two sentries, and just as threatening. Numb with fear, Fergus looked around and finally picked out the Mexican he had met outside Yuma. At first the man ignored him, then silently pointed to a big, heavyset, bearded fellow sitting a little apart from the others. Fergus dismounted and, leading his horse, walked over to the man he assumed was Calusa Jim.
Conspicuously neat and clean compared with the others, the bearded man wore a blue coat with red cuffs and collar that looked like a foreign military tunic. He glanced up at Fergus with eyes that were as hard as flint, then proceeded to pick his teeth with a long, gleaming knife.
"Are you Mr. Calusa Jim, sir?" Fergus asked, hat in hand.
"I am Calusa Jim," the man replied with a heavy French accent. "You have some information for me?"
Fergus nodded eagerly and related what he had heard two soldiers discussing in a Yuma saloon: Several heavy crates had recently been received at the fort and stored in a warehouse, and although they had been covered with canvas to conceal the markings on them, one of the soldiers had peeked under the cloth and seen that the crates contained the new model Winchester rifles. "The soldiers guessed the rifles must be going to Fort Peck," Fergus concluded.
"Yes, they must be." Calusa Jim pointed the knife toward Fergus. "I want to know when they will be sent there. When you find out, leave something under the tree where you met Mendoza. He will see it and wait for you there the following night."
"Yes, sir," Fergus said. "What do you want me to put under the tree?"
The man smiled menacingly as he took a twenty-dollar gold piece from his pocket and tossed it at Fergus's feet. "Put a wooden cross under the tree," he replied. "We shall find a good use for it if your information is wrong."
The comancheros nearby laughed in cold, ruthless amusement at the remark, and Fergus could still hear their laughter echoing well after he had snatched up the money, mounted his horse, and ridden rapidly back out of the camp.
* * *
Elmer Sewell walked along a quiet side street in San Francisco toward a sprawling, four-story Victorian house. The windows were dark, covered by heavy drapes, but a dim red light beside the front door announced the nature of the establishment and the fact that it was open for business. Sewell climbed the steps and went inside.
A hulking bouncer was sitting in the entry hall, and the stony expression on his scarred face changed to a servile grin as he jumped up to greet Sewell, who was a key member of the organization that owned the bordello. Nodding perfunctorily, Sewell handed the man his coat and hat.
"Why, it's Mr. Sewell!" The madam, a fleshy woman of forty wearing a garish dressing gown, stood in the drape-covered doorway to the parlor beyond. In the dim light, her cosmetics almost succeeded in softening her coarse features. "Are you looking for entertainment tonight, Elmer dear?"
"No, I have business upstairs," Sewell grumbled.
The woman gave a disappointed pout. "Well, when you're through, maybe."
Sewell nodded curtly and stepped past her into the large, candlelit parlor. The air was thick with incense and perfume, and scantily clad women lolled on couches with well-dressed men and discussed terms, their voices almost drowned by a jangling music box in a corner. The few unoccupied women smiled at Sewell provocatively.
Usually Sewell would have responded to their unvoiced invitations, but tonight he was racked with anxiety. He was to meet with Carl Sykes, his employer and the head of the ruling criminal organization on the West Coast, to discuss a task he had been assigned but had failed to accomplish. And Sykes was ruthlessly unforgiving of failure.
A few months before, wanting to extend his organization eastward, Sykes had sent Sewell to Kentucky to establish a presence in the horse-racing circuits there. Sewell had found a perfect location for a base of operations, a large horse farm near Lexington that was owned by a debt-ridden old man named Alexander Woodling.
Once in Kentucky, however, Sewell had met with nothing but obstacles. Far from achieving what he had been sent to do, he had not even managed to secure ownership of the farm, and two of his best men had been wounded in a gun battle. In the end he had returned to San Francisco in defeat.
Slowly climbing the stairs, Sewell thought in growing apprehension of what Sykes might do to him. The sounds from the bordello on the first and second floors had faded when he reached the top landing, where a guard sat outside the entrance to an apartment that occupied the entire floor. The guard stood up and knocked on the door, and a moment later a servant opened it and bowed as Sewell stepped inside.
Sewell followed the man along a wide, rosewood-paneled hallway with deep, costly carpeting underfoot. The servant tapped on a door, opened it, and quietly announced Sewell, then stood aside. Sewell stepped in, and the door closed behind him.
In the center of the room, a small, balding man was seated behind a desk, studying columns of numbers on a sheet of paper, and at first he ignored Sewell's greeting. With his rimless glasses, the man looked like an accountant or a bank clerk, but his thin, bloodless lips hinted at a cruel nature, and his eyes were devoid of life.
After nearly a full minute, Sykes sat back and stared at Sewell. His ominous silence and the fixed gaze of his strange, blank eyes made Sewell increasingly nervous. Knowing that a single quiet word from this man could bring death, Sewell shifted from foot to foot, feeling sweat breaking out on his brow.
Sykes finally spoke, his voice soft and almost effeminate. "So you had two men wounded, Sewell," he said. "Wounded by a girl with a rifle. You let a girl drive you back here with your tail between your legs."
"No, sir," Sewell replied. "A girl sneaked up on us with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, and she did wound two of my men. But that wasn't the reason I came back, Mr. Sykes."
"Then what was the reason?" Sykes asked patiently.
"That family is related to Toby Holt," Sewell said glumly. "I found out that the girl sent him a telegram, asking him to come there. And with him involved ..." He left the sentence unfinished and shrugged helplessly.
Sykes nodded toward a chair beside his desk. "Sit down," he said.
The invitation surprised Sewell, particularly under the circumstances, because Sykes usually made his underlings stand when he talked to them. Sewell sat down, and after a moment Sykes spoke again. "What do you think we should do now?"
"Well, sir, before I left Kentucky, I did find a likely candidate to run the operation there—someone who knows all about horses. His name's Waldo Crowley, and he used to fix races back in New Jersey."
Sykes's reaction was unreadable. "And this Crowley, is he still in Lexington?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," Sewell responded.
"Is he wanted by the police?"
"He might be back east, but not in Kentucky, sir. Still," Sewell added nervously, "with Holt involved, maybe we'd better find another way of going about things. Everybody knows about him and what happens to anyone who goes up against him."
"Yes, everyone knows about him," Sykes agreed calmly. "But what would happen if we got rid of him? Everyone would be grateful to us, and they would fear us. No one would try to move in on us in Kentucky."
"Get rid of Toby Holt?" Sewell shook his head. "That's been tried before, Mr. Sykes. Like I said, anybody who goes up against that man always winds up—"
"Shut up and think for a moment!" Sykes snapped impatiently, finally revealing his anger. "When people hear a rattlesnake rattle, they're automatically afraid. The same thing happpens when people hear Toby Holt's name. Now, isn't that what happened to you?"
Sewell hesitated, recalling his first meeting with Toby Holt, and he realized that Sykes was at least partly right. Certainly he was wary of the man. "Yes, I suppose so," he confessed.
"Very well," Sykes said. "Let's look at the situation logically. Toby Holt is a difficult man to deal with, but he's still a man. He can be killed by a bullet, just like anyone else. How many men have you killed, Sewell? A dozen or more, haven't you? And several of them were men who were very difficult to deal with, weren't they?"
"Yes, sir," Sewell replied, understanding where the conversation was leading. "With some of them I had to do a lot of planning, and I had plenty of men to help me. But Toby Holt is different, because he—"
"Now, wait just a minute," Sykes interrupted. "You're still letting that name scare you. To take care of Toby Holt, you might need a better plan and more men than just this Crowley fellow, but you would have them." His tone became confidential. "Look, you know it would be of great benefit to us if we got rid of Holt permanently. But it would also be of personal benefit to you, because it would make you a rich man. I would put you in charge of the operation in Kentucky, with a share of the profits."
Suddenly the entire matter was set in a different perspective for Sewell. Sykes was absolutely right: Toby Holt was a formidable enemy, but still he was only a man, and a man could be killed. "All right, I'll do it, Mr. Sykes," he said. "I'll deal with him, then set up the operation in Kentucky."
Sykes smiled in satisfaction. "I knew all along that you could do it, if you only made up your mind to it. I'll tell you what—I'll think of some ways to go about taking care of Holt, and we'll discuss them tomorrow. Maybe this Crowley fellow will be of use. For now, you just go downstairs and enjoy yourself."
"Yes, sir!" Sewell felt confident, and his nervousness had vanished. "It'll take a good plan and several men, but I know I can manage it. Right now, Toby Holt is living on borrowed time."
A crisp chill was in the air at the teeming port city of Bremerhaven, Germany, as Captain Henry Blake of the United States Army boarded a waiting train. He had arrived on a fast steamer from New York only an hour earlier and had hurried through customs and then across town to the station, yet even now he was impatient for the train to depart.
Oddly enough, this very station had been the scene of an attempt on Henry's life six months before, when he had been en route back to the United States from his duty assignment in Germany; but that scarcely entered his thoughts now. Instead, he was filled with anxiety over the condition of the woman around whom his entire life revolved—his mistress, the Baroness Gisela von Kirchberg. When the train finally began pulling out of the station, Henry dug into his coat pocket and took out the telegram that had brought him rushing back across the Atlantic.
Tattered from the innumerable times he had read it during his long journey, the sheet of paper contained a cryptic message, all of it except the last two sentences garbled from poor transmission on the transatlantic cable. The first legible sentence stated that a Dr. Ian MacAlister had been summoned to attend to Gisela. The other was a request for Henry to return to Germany as soon as possible.
He had lost little time, barely more than two weeks having passed since he received the telegram in Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. MacAlister, the staff physician at the British embassy in Berlin, was the doctor who, two years earlier, had diagnosed the recurring illness that troubled Gisela. He had called it a perityphlitic abscess—a condition somehow connected with the appendix—and it was eventually and invariably fatal.
When the white-jacketed porter announced dinner was being served, Henry was still staring blankly at the telegram, not knowing whether or not Gisela was yet alive. He put the telegram away and went to the dining car, where he picked listlessly at his food. At nightfall he went to his sleeping berth and lay staring into the darkness, worrying about Gisela as the train sped through the night.
The next day, the train was deep into the central provinces of Germany, where summer still lingered. Towns among the vast vineyards in the river valleys were decked with colorful pennants in the bright sunshine, indicating that the grape harvest was in and wine festivals were in progress. Henry thought about the festivals he had attended with Gisela and wondered if they would ever go to another one together.
The train pulled into Frankfurt-am-Main during late afternoon, and Henry had to wait an hour for a local train to Grevenburg, the village at the foot of the hill upon which Cisela's palatial mansion of Grevenhof stood. His agony of suspense was near its end, for people in the village would know about Gisela; yet that awareness only made the wait seem endless to him. Finally the local train arrived, and Henry stepped aboard.
The sun dipped below the mountains bordering the lush valley of the Main River, and the train chuffed along the tracks, stopping at every village. When it reached Grevenburg, Henry hurried down the steps. A porter was standing next to the baggage car, and the old stationmaster was there, too. Recognizing Henry, the man smiled and called to him.
"Welcome home, sir. The carriage from Grevenhof is not here, so they must not have known you were coming."
"I sent a telegram," Henry said tersely in fluent German, striding up to the man. "But I wasn't sure of my arrival time. How is the baroness?"
"I have not seen her, but I understand that she is well," the old stationmaster replied. "I was told she has resumed working."
For a moment Henry felt numb, unable to believe what he had heard. Then, with a physical impact, relief flooded through him. After weeks of frantic worry he was emotionally exhausted, and it took him a long moment to collect himself, listening as the stationmaster continued talking. The man had noticed the new insignia on Henry's epaulets and was congratulating him on his promotion. "Thank you," Henry managed. "And you are quite certain the baroness is well?"
"Absolutely, sir," the man replied cheerfully. "Instead of waiting for a carriage, would you like to use my horse to ride up to Grevenhof? You would get there more quickly, and you could return it when the carriage comes to fetch your baggage."
"Yes, I would like that very much."
"My pleasure, sir," the stationmaster said. "I'll send a boy to saddle it for you."
Henry thanked the man again and walked toward the stables to wait.
Excerpted from Wagons West ARIZONA! by Dana Fuller Ross Copyright © 1988 by Book Creations, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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