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The Trailsman #388: Borderland Bloodbath
     

The Trailsman #388: Borderland Bloodbath

by Jon Sharpe
 

See All Formats & Editions

Fargo is going to cross the line.

After an explosion on the U.S.–Mexico border almost blows him out of his boots, Skye Fargo goes up against a ruthless robber baron’s agent who is planting charges to change the course of the Rio Grande so he can grab valuable mining land on the Mexican side of the border. But any way the river runs, the Trailsman

Overview

Fargo is going to cross the line.

After an explosion on the U.S.–Mexico border almost blows him out of his boots, Skye Fargo goes up against a ruthless robber baron’s agent who is planting charges to change the course of the Rio Grande so he can grab valuable mining land on the Mexican side of the border. But any way the river runs, the Trailsman is riding straight into trouble.…

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780451466488
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/04/2014
Series:
Trailsman Series , #388
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
694,987
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 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.

Rio Grande borderland, 1860—where Skye Fargo witnesses an international land grab and ends up stalked by the most fearsome assassin on the frontier.

1

The Ovaro gave his low trouble whicker, jolting Skye Fargo out of an uneasy sleep.

In one fluid, continuous movement only a heartbeat after his eyes snapped open, Fargo rolled out of his blanket, rose to a low crouch, shucked his walnut-grip Colt from his holster and thumb-cocked it.

At first, as the last cobwebs of sleep cleared from his mind, all seemed calm enough. Cicadas gave off their metronomic, singsong rhythm; the nearby Rio Grande purled gently only ten yards away; a fat full moon had turned from the buttery color of early evening to the pale white that preceded dawn.

Then Fargo heard it: a man’s authoritative voice snapping out an indistinct command from about fifty yards upriver.

The Ovaro snorted, not liking this mysterious human intrusion.

“Steady on, old campaigner,” Fargo said in a low voice, placing a hand on the stallion’s neck to calm him. “Whoever they are, they don’t know we’re here.”

It was 1860, the middle of the blistering dog days in the American Southwest, and the man some called the Trailsman had just finished a three-month stint riding security for a merchant caravan between Santa Fe and Guadalajara, Mexico. He had collected his final pay earlier in El Paso and pitched camp for the night in this juniper thicket on the American side of the sleepy, muddy, meandering river Mexicans called Río Bravo del Norte, Americans Rio Grande.

Another voice rang out upriver and again Fargo couldn’t make out the words. But for some inexplicable reason an ominous sense of foreboding prickled his scalp.

“You picked the wrong campsite, Fargo,” he muttered.

It wasn’t just these voices now. Earlier, when Fargo was cleaning and oiling his brass-framed Henry rifle, a lone rider had moved in close, forcing Fargo to kick dirt over his small fire.

Still, such a level of activity was hardly surprising along the U.S.-Mexico border. Contrabandistas, slave-trading Comancheros, whiskey peddlers and gunrunners operated with impunity in this area, and they naturally preferred the cloak of darkness. Whoever they were, Fargo figured it was none of his mix.

Again the commanding voice and this time Fargo thought he had heard the English words “shore it up.”

He moved cautiously forward out of the thicket, unpleasantly aware once again of a vaguely foreboding premonition of danger. Despite the warm night his skin goose bumped, stiffening the hair on his forearms.

Something’s wrong, Fargo, insisted an urgent inner voice. Something’s dead wrong. Don’t you notice what it is?

Fargo emerged silently from the thicket and saw the river reflecting glimmering points of color in the moonlight despite being at its muddiest by late summer. He glanced upriver and spotted torches burning. But he couldn’t see much because the black velvet folds of darkness seemed to absorb the illumination before it reached his eyes.

More words reached him now, muffled by the distance and the constant chuckling of the river: “. . . Use plenty . . . not too deep . . . more past the bend . . .”

Occasionally he spotted ghostly figures moving in and out of the light. He listened carefully to a steady chunking sound and recognized it as several shovels digging. Men burying contraband, maybe, but why so close to the water?

What’s wrong, Fargo? that insistent inner voice demanded again from some layer of awareness located in survival reflex, not conscious thought. Figure it out fast, man, before it’s too late!

Fargo tucked at the knees beside the river growth and moved slowly closer to the men. Again he reminded himself it was none of his picnic, that he might be edging closer to something immensely dangerous, but intense curiosity had him in its grip.

Fargo realized the shoveling had stopped and suddenly the torches were snuffed. Moments later he heard the rataplan of iron-shod hooves as the men escaped to the north.

But escaping from whom?

Not who, Fargo, urged that body voice deeper than thought. Escaping from what? Snap into it, Trailsman! Don’t you understand what’s wrong?

Fargo halted as his mind, honed by years of deadly scrapes and narrow escapes, frantically assembled the baffling clues. The shovels, the sudden escape, the half-formed words he might or might not have heard correctly: “Shore it up . . . use plenty . . . not too deep . . . more past the bend . . .”

And this sudden, throbbing silence . . .

Silence!

“Goddamn,” Fargo abruptly whispered as the important clue he had missed now slammed into him like a fist, something taught to him years ago by an old mountain man: “Watch out, boy, when the insects fall silent.”

Fargo realized what was coming and turned on his heel, bolting back toward the juniper thicket as his stomach turned into a ball of ice. Even as he was about to dive into the thicket the peaceful night was split by blinding light and a cracking boom like the promised doom clap of final reckoning.

The earth split open and heaved flames and dirt in a towering column into the sky. Fargo heard the terrified neighing of the Ovaro and felt a searing ripple of heat as the fire surge washed over him before lifting him into the night and flinging him like a child’s toy.

You were too late, Fargo, was his last thought before his world closed down to pain and darkness and oblivion. You were just a few seconds too late!

2

At some point Fargo realized he wasn’t dead. A dead man couldn’t feel this much pain.

“Sun’s up, Fargo. Rise and shine.”

Something kicked the sole of Fargo’s boot. With a great effort of will he pried his eyelids open. He saw a blurred vision of bottomless blue sky and smelled the aroma of fried bacon and fresh-brewed coffee.

“You look like death warmed over,” said a man’s voice beyond his field of vision.

Fargo felt stinging pain all over his body. Groaning at the effort, he rose up on one elbow. The man who had just spoken to him sat on a log nearby, sopping bacon grease off a tin plate with a hunk of saleratus bread.

“I made extra for you,” explained the stranger in good English with a Mexican accent. “Hope you don’t mind that I helped myself to your eats.”

The day went even blurrier as Fargo forced himself to sit up. His white hat lay beside him, and Fargo noticed that it was singed. So were some of the fringes on his buckskin clothing. He also noticed that he was back in his original camp just behind the juniper thicket.

He glanced to his left and saw the Ovaro contentedly munching from a nose bag. Its mane and tail were slightly singed but otherwise the stallion appeared to be in fine fettle.

“I played hell trying to calm him down after the explosion,” the stranger said. “That’s a magnificent stallion, Fargo. I was tempted to steal him.”

Fargo’s vision cleared and he peered closer at the man. He was somewhere in his twenties, a mestizo of indeterminate mixed blood, copper-skinned, of medium height and build, with quick-darting, mistrustful eyes set deep behind prominent cheekbones. A black sombrero left half of his smooth-shaven face in shadow.

“So why didn’t you steal him?” Fargo retorted.

“That’s the kind of horse people notice. And I prefer not to be noticed.”

“How do you know my name?”

“I found an old army contract in one of your saddle pockets—something about scouting for a mapping party. I recognized your name right off. You’ve got a reputation in these parts. My name is Santiago Valdez, by the way.”

Santiago Valdez . . . Fargo had heard of him, too, but kept that to himself. He was a noted pistolero and said to possess excellent trailcraft. The son of a Kiowa mother and a Mexican father, there was talk that he was occasionally a hired gun and that he had escaped from jail several times in Mexico.

Fargo took in the man’s gun belt trimmed with silver conchos. Two squat, odd-looking revolvers of a type Fargo had never seen rested in cutaway holsters. Both holsters were tied down low on Valdez’s thighs.

“A professional, I see,” Fargo remarked as he rose unsteadily to his feet.

Valdez set the plate aside and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“If, by ‘professional’ you mean that I kill for money, then you’ve got it wrong. But if you mean that I am very good at killing—yes, I’m a professional. Coffee?”

Fargo nodded even though his belly was stirring with nausea. Gingerly he felt his face. He winced when his fingers probed spots that had been burned.

“You’ll have to trim your beard,” Valdez explained as he handed Fargo a tin cup. “Your eyebrows are singed, too. But your skin burns are minor—nothing a little bear grease won’t soothe. You’re very lucky—I watched that blast lift you twenty feet into the air.”

“You watched?” Fargo repeated.

Valdez’s strong, perfect teeth flashed when he grinned. “I watched. You might say you were blown ‘Skye’ high. I dragged you back behind the thicket.”

Fargo grunted to acknowledge the pun. “So you were the one I heard riding near here last night. Who are those jaspers who set off that explosion and what the hell for?”

“Never mind who they are. As to the ‘what for’—you’ll see soon enough although you might not believe your eyes.”

Fargo’s legs felt rubbery and he sat down, resting his back against his saddle and taking a hissing sip of coffee.

“Obviously you’re watching these men,” Fargo said. “Are they gringos?”

Valdez nodded.

“What’s your dicker with them?” Fargo added. “You a bounty hunter?”

“You ask too many questions.”

The Trailsman had seen Valdez’s face harden at his query. He realized the man was nursing one hell of a grudge—a killing grudge that was bone deep and personal. This was way beyond money.

“Wha’d’ya mean I might not believe my eyes?” Fargo pressed.

Valdez grinned again. “Quiet down and listen. You notice anything missing?”

For a full minute Fargo did listen. He heard jays scolding, vagrant breezes stirring the nearby cottonwood leaves, the chattering of squirrels. And, yes, something was definitely missing.

“The river current,” he finally said, his tone puzzled. “The Rio is close enough to spit in from here, but I can’t hear it. That explosion . . . did they dam up the river?”

Again the strong teeth flashed. “Can you walk yet?”

“I’ll make myself,” Fargo assured him grimly. He set his cup aside and pushed to his feet.

The two men worked their way through the tangle of growth and emerged from the thicket. Fargo’s jaw slacked open and he stared upriver—or what should have been upriver. There was no dam.

But there was also no Rio Grande. It had simply disappeared.

•   •   •

Fargo stood rooted in numb shock until Valdez’s voice jogged him back to awareness.

“It’s not really gone, Fargo. That explosion last night, and some careful digging before it, changed the river’s course.”

Fargo knew the Rio Grande was notorious for jumping its channel. For most of its course—except around the rugged Big Bend region of south-central Texas—it was shallow and slow moving. Natural cycles of drought and flooding had created new channels it sometimes shifted into. But this time it was artificial and purposeful.

Fargo stared across the former riverbed, a slough of mud with countless little pools of water pockmarking it, at a low, rocky ridge.

“After the Mexican War the international boundary,” he said, thinking out loud, “was officially established as the exact center of the Rio. That means the long ridge in front of us is now on the American side. And this area is known for having rich veins of silver ore buried under ridges like that.”

Valdez nodded. “Tienes razón. I see that you know plenty about la frontera,” he said, using the Spanish name for the border region. “You’ll now find that Río Bravo takes a sharp bend around that ridge in an old channel. It flows back into its natural course about two miles downriver from where we’re standing.”

Fargo swiveled his head to stare at Valdez. “And I see that you know plenty more than I do about what’s going on. What is this deal to you?”

“Nothing. They can steal half of Mexico for all I care.”

“Nothing, huh? So watching these men so close is just a hobby?”

“As I said, you ask too many questions.”

“Yeah,” Fargo replied, “and I get too damn few answers.”

Valdez’s lips firmed. “Then perhaps you should stop asking the questions.”

“Would you call that advice or a warning?”

“Is there a difference?” Valdez demanded.

“Plenty. Advice doesn’t bother me, and I usually just ignore it. But I don’t cotton to warnings—not the kind that shade over into threats.”

Valdez stared into those remarkably blue, implacable eyes. Even with his singed beard and eyebrows, his face blistering with burns, Skye Fargo was clearly a man with no more fear in him than a rifle. Santiago Valdez was not easily intimidated, and he wasn’t intimidated now. But he respected strength because he believed that strength was the first virtue from which all other virtues sprang.

“I consider it advice,” he finally replied. “Which means you will ignore it.”

Fargo grinned. “Prob’ly. But right now I’m going to tack my horse and take a closer squint at the blast site.”

“Why?” Valdez challenged.

“Now you’re asking too many questions,” Fargo said as the two men headed back to Fargo’s camp.

“But what does it matter to you?” Valdez persisted. “You are not the law.”

“Neither are you, but you’re obviously dogging these men. Let’s just say I’m the curious type—especially when I’m blown halfway to the moon.”

“Curiosity? That is not a wise thing in la frontera.”

“Now there we agree,” Fargo conceded. “But wisdom isn’t my strong suit.”

La frontera, Fargo knew from long experience, was far more than simply a border demarcation. It was actually a unique “third country,” neither quite Mexican nor quite American. It extended for approximately twenty miles on either side of the long border and featured its own foods, customs and harsh, unwritten laws—even its own hybrid language known as Spanglish. But most of all, as Valdez had just hinted, it was fraught with its own unique dangers.

Valdez drank a second cup of coffee while Fargo packed up his gear and tacked the Ovaro. The mestizo knocked the rawhide hobbles off his sturdy roan gelding and lithely forked leather. Fargo, however, was a bit slower swinging up onto the hurricane deck.

“If I were you, gringo,” Valdez said, “I would rest here for a few hours. And that is friendly advice,” he hastened to add.

Fargo grinned weakly. “I’ve been in worse shape. Where you headed?”

“Wherever it is best for me to be,” Valdez replied from a deadpan.

Fargo shook his head in wonder as both men cleared the thicket. “You are the world-beatingest man, Valdez. But I thank you for dragging me back into cover. And good hunting.”

Valdez opened his mouth to reply. But all that came out was a harsh grunt of pain when a fire-hardened arrow punched into his left thigh with a sickening sound like a cleaver slicing into a side of raw beef.

3

Santiago Valdez, face twisted with pain, reflexively reached for the arrow, fletched with black crow feathers, protruding from his thigh.

“It’s a long way from your heart!” Fargo snapped, reining the Ovaro around in a circle to spot their attackers. “Let it go for now.”

Fargo saw the attackers making a beeline toward them from the east in a boiling cloud of yellow-brown dust. He had expected to see an Indian war party, but was forced to do a double take: There were only three men, all apparently white judging from the pale reflections of their faces.

Only three . . . at first Fargo was tempted to handle them with his Henry and its sixteen-round magazine. But just then a bullet snapped past his face, and he realized these were far from average marksmen—still at least four hundred yards out they were nonetheless shooting with near pinpoint accuracy from horseback.

Another arrow whiffed in, this one so close the feather burned Fargo’s left temple.

“Make tracks!” Fargo urged the pain-distracted Valdez, slapping the roan hard on its rump. “These ain’t no thirty-five-cent bandits!”

Both horses bolted to the west. The unknown archer, Fargo quickly grasped, was the most dangerous of the trio. Despite bouncing atop a galloping horse, he was nocking and firing arrows with a speed and accuracy Fargo had seen only in Comanches.

The Ovaro, well rested and eager to stretch out the night kinks, quickly raced from a gallop to a headlong run, and Valdez’s strong roan did not fall far behind. Fargo had noticed a percussion rifle in the mestizo’s saddle sheath, but it was all the wounded man could do to stay in the saddle.

An arrow punched into Fargo’s nearside saddlebag, missing his leg by a hairbreadth. Fargo took the reins in his teeth. Plucking his Henry from its boot, he levered a round into the chamber and twisted halfway around to the right. Lodging the rifle’s butt plate in his hip socket, he began levering and firing.

Again, again, yet again he levered and fired, watching his bullets kick up dust and adjusting his aim to walk the rounds in closer. Finally, with his seventh or eighth shot, the lead rider’s hat went spinning off his head, and the wary trio opted for discretion over valor, reversing their dust. Fargo served them up a few more chaser shots in case they changed their minds.

He reined back slightly, slowing the Ovaro to a canter and allowing an ashen-faced Valdez, who seemed oblivious to everything except pain, to catch up.

“Get your feet back into the stirrups!” Fargo shouted to him. “And hold on! Soon as I find a good spot, we’ll rein in and get that arrow point out.”

Fargo studied the desolate terrain. This stretch of the borderland was mostly barren and desiccated, the vast, yellow-brown monotony broken only by wiry tufts of palomilla grass, low clumps of prickly pear and the occasional tall, thin cactus known as Spanish bayonets. But it was also crisscrossed by arroyos, and he spotted the mouth of one straight ahead.

Both riders descended into the deep, flash-flood erosion ditch and dismounted, Fargo helping Valdez from the saddle.

“Fargo,” the copper-skinned pistolero hissed through gritted teeth, “I’ve had arrows in me before, and they never hurt like this. Maldita! Perhaps it is poison tipped.”

“Stretch out on your back,” Fargo ordered. He had already glanced at the arrow penetrating his saddlebag. “It’s not poison tipped—the point is fashioned from sheet metal. We’re going to play hell getting it out—I don’t dare shove it through. Least you’re not losing much blood. Got any whiskey?”

Valdez was trembling in the early stages of shock. “Offside saddle pocket,” he muttered.

Fargo was surprised when he dug out a bottle of Very Old Pale, distilled especially for American army officers. He made Valdez take the bottle down by a few inches, then snapped the arrow off short and cut a swathe of the cotton trousers away to expose the ugly red pucker of the wound.

“Sheet metal points,” he explained as he pulled his Arkansas toothpick from its boot sheath, “tend to clinch tight around bone. You can’t just cut them out. Here, knock back some more of this oil of gladness—you’re going to need it. I’m going to have to do some cutting to get a better look-see.”

Fargo lit several lucifer matches in a row to sterilize the tip of his knife. Knowing that being too careful would only prolong Valdez’s agony, he quickly cut out a gobbet of bloody meat for a better view of the interior of the wound.

“Cristo!” Valdez cried out, reverting to Spanish in his agony. “Quieres matarme?”

“No, I’m not trying to kill you,” Fargo insisted, studying the bloody maw of wound intently. “There, I see how it is. It hit bone, all right, but you got lucky. Most of the arrow’s force was spent by the time it reached you, and the point has clinched on only one side. Hold on. . . .”

“Sagrada Virgin!” Valdez moaned, pain screwing his voice up a few octaves. “Que pena tan fuerte! Ay, Dios!”

“Stop kicking around,” Fargo snapped as he turned to rifle in a saddlebag. “You’re making it bleed more, chucklehead.”

Fargo pulled out a bundle wrapped in cloth and secured with a rawhide whang. He opened it and selected a fishhook, tying it to a length of catgut thread.

Fargo knelt beside the wounded man again. “Damn it, man, lie still or I can’t finish the job.”

When Valdez failed to comply, Fargo threw a short, hard jab to the “sweet spot” of the mestizo’s jaw, halfway between the earlobe and the point of the chin. Valdez slumped, knocked out cold, and Fargo worked quickly.

After several attempts he managed to hook the clinched side of the arrow point and wiggle it loose before lifting it out. Fargo flushed the wound well with Very Old Pale and packed it tight with flour to clot the blood. Then he swathed it with linen strips and tied them off.

Valdez drifted back to awareness a few minutes later, groaning. But the alcohol was kicking in now, and he no longer floundered like a fish in the bottom of a boat.

Fargo tucked the mangled arrow point into Valdez’s shirt pocket. “Keep that for a souvenir. If the wound doesn’t mortify in the next day or so, you’ll survive. It’s going to start bleeding again, though, so you’ll need to pack it with flour or gunpowder—beef tallow is even better if you can lay hands on some.”

“It feels like you took off my leg.”

Fargo lifted Valdez’s head so he could knock back another slug of liquor. “Who are those hombres?”

Valdez ignored the question.

“Are they the same ones,” Fargo pressed on, “who blasted the river out of its bed last night?”

Valdez still ignored him.

“You ungrateful son of a bitch,” Fargo said. “Maybe I will lop off that leg.”

“Look, I’m grateful, Fargo. I’ll tell you this much: You don’t want to brace any of those three. As you just found out, they are dangerous men. Each was hired for his—how do you say it?—extraordinary skill at killing. Now that they’ve seen you with me, they will move heaven and earth to kill you. Do the smart thing and put la frontera far behind you.”

Fargo cursed. “This trail is taking more turns than a cross-eyed cow. Well, since they were nearby I’m going to assume they were in on that blast last night. You say they were hired—are you after them or whoever hired them?”

“Who first made days and gave them to men?”

Fargo tugged at his singed beard. “This is personal with you, right? You’re not after those three—you’re after whoever has them on his payroll.”

“I’m drunk, but not that drunk. You’re wasting your time trying to prod me. I’ll say it again: Your only chance is to clear these parts.”

“I’m the one who decides what my chances are. That blast last night wasn’t meant to kill me. But this just now was. And nobody tries to kill me without answering for it. I’m sensitive on that score.”

“Fargo, I know about your reputation, and I know you’re death to the devil. But you have no idea what you’ll find if you’re stubborn enough to turn this rock over. That’s all I have to say, so don’t ask me any more questions.”

“All right,” Fargo surrendered. “I’ll button it. I’m more likely to get blood from a turnip than to pry information out of you. But there’s something you can tell me. . . .”

Fargo slid one of the squat, odd-looking revolvers from Valdez’s holster. “I’ve never seen a gun like this—the hell is it? A foreign model?”

“Yes and no. It was designed by Adams of London, but it’s been made in America since 1855 in very limited numbers. It’s called double action, but it’s still considered experimental. You won’t likely see another one.”

“Double action?” Fargo replied skeptically. “I’ve heard talk of such a gun. The army rejected the model they tested because it jams too easy. They concluded it would be ten years, at least, before a reliable one came on the market.”

Valdez nodded. “This one jams, too—too many small, moving parts. They have to be cleaned and oiled constantly and the sear bends too easy. You almost have to be a gunsmith to keep it working. It’ll be a long time before it replaces that single-action Colt of yours.”

“Then if it’s half-assed why do you carry it?”

“Because the time required to thumb-cock a revolver can be an eternity in a gunfight, especially when you’re facing more than one man.”

“There’s that,” Fargo allowed.

“This Adams double action shoots as fast as I can pull the trigger.”

“Sure, if it doesn’t jam. Every man to his own gait. Me, I’d rather have a slower barking iron that’s dependable than a faster one that’s not.”

“Why do you think I carry two? I always draw them as a pair. It’s not likely they’ll both jam at the same exact time.”

Fargo holstered the gun again. “Well, whatever you’re up to, you’re mighty damn serious about it.”

“Serious as cancer,” Valdez agreed.

Fargo stood up again and tied hobbles on the roan. “You should be safe here. You got food and water?”

“Plenty of water and buffalo jerky.”

“All right. I recommend you rest here until at least nightfall. I’m heading out.”

“Headed north—way north?” Valdez said hopefully.

“Nope. I’m going to take a close look at that blast site so I can eventually report it to the army up at Fort Union. And then I’m going to pick up the trail of those three skunk-bit coyotes.”

“Report it? What’s it to you?”

“What, do you need an elephant to sit on you? A chunk of Mexico has just been stolen by gringos—a rich chunk of Mexico. This region is already a simmering pot, and it’s going to boil over when this gets back to the Mexican government. ’Case you haven’t noticed, the border region has been peopling up lately. Do you want the ’forty-seven war to flare up all over again?”

“I tried to help you out,” Valdez said. “Now it’s your funeral.”

“Distinct possibility.” Fargo turned a stirrup and forked leather. “But like I said, I don’t let any son of a bitch try to kill me and then just ride away like it’s none of my business.”

“I’ve heard that about you.”

“You heard right,” Fargo replied, gigging the Ovaro toward the mouth of the arroyo.

•   •   •

El Paso was a rough frontier town hardly known for its luxurious accommodations. However, it was also a mining center visited by a limited number of ultra-wealthy capitalists. Thus, the one notable exception to its drab boardinghouses and fleapit hotels was the Del Norte Arms on Paseo Street.

This impressive, five-story edifice was constructed of solid fieldstone and featured a parquet-floored lobby, wrought-iron balconies, plaster ornaments on the ceilings and deferential employees in gold-braided livery.

One week before the massive blast that altered the course of the Rio Grande, Santa Fe mining kingpin Stanley Wins-lowe had reserved the huge suite of rooms that comprised much of the fifth floor. An adjoining room was now occupied by “businessman’s agent” Harlan Perry. Late in the afternoon on the day that Mexico had suddenly shrunk by thousands of acres, Perry was visited by three men he proudly referred to as his “intervention team.”

“Congratulations are in order, gentlemen,” he announced as he handed around imported cigars banded with gilt paper rings and poured out four glasses of bourbon from a crystal decanter. “It’s true that we have a couple of flies in the ointment. But you did an exceptional job last night—perfectly executed. Mr. Winslowe has authorized me to pay all of you a generous bonus.”

Perry was almost professorial-looking with his gold-rimmed spectacles, neat spade beard and slight, chicken-wing shoulders. Most men with callused hands dismissed him at first glance as a lavender-scented poncy, an impression he carefully cultivated to disguise the ruthless cunning of a man adept at “clearing the profit path” at any cost to innocent human life. His room reeked of eucalyptus fumigation, which he endured three times a week to treat his chronic congestion.

Meet the Author

Jon Sharpe is the author of the long-running Trailsman western series, featuring the adventures of tracker Skye Fargo.

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