The Trailsman #397: Riverboat Reckoning

The Trailsman #397: Riverboat Reckoning

by Jon Sharpe

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Overview

The Trailsman #397: Riverboat Reckoning by Jon Sharpe

All aboard…for danger!

Skye Fargo is working his way up and down the Mississippi River looking to stop a band of deadly river rats from destroying a valuable riverboat line. But it won’t be easy—because the truth behind the attacks leads to a conspiracy with more twists and turns than the mighty Mississippi itself....

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451469151
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Series: Trailsman Series , #397
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 875,820
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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

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.

1860, Louisiana, aboard the Creole Queen—where Skye Fargo has only days to avert massive slaughter in the region that’s “half horse, half alligator.”

1

“Women are morbid damn creatures,” opined Justin Breaux, a gentleman gambler from Lake Charles, Louisiana. “Tell them your best friend has committed suicide and they’ll never ask why, only how, for they instinctively wonder how messy it was and who in the world had to clean it up.”

“I’d call that being practical,” spoke up the dealer, “not morbid. Women are an uneven cocktail of useful practicality and silly sentimentality. What say you, Fargo? You’re a knockabout single man with an impressive history of conquests.”

“Topping venereal-tainted squaws on the side of a hill,” cut in Abbot Fontaine, an acid-tongued, heavy-jowled man with foppish side whiskers, “is hardly a conquest.”

In the momentary lull following Fontaine’s snide remark, Fargo listened to the Creole Queen’s two huge side paddles, forty feet in diameter and the most powerful on the river, churn the mighty and muddy Mississippi into froth. The sound of the blades slicing into the water reminded him of a big hall clock ominously ticking off the seconds.

“Abbot,” Breaux said good-naturedly, “this line of attack will ill behoove you. Squaws? Skye Fargo has bedded beautiful women who can buy and sell both of us.”

“Oh, I’ve taken squaws in the grass, too,” Fargo chipped in over his shoulder from the opposite side of the Gentlemen’s Cabin. “You’ve not seen beauty until you’ve glommed a Crow or Cheyenne woman naked.”

Fargo spoke these words absently, paying little attention to the poker game behind him or the foolish conversation meant to distract from all the cheating going on at the table.

The crop-bearded frontiersman looked as out of place as a duck in the desert. His fringed buckskins, knot-and-dip red bandanna, and white plainsman’s hat seemed to glare among the fancy frock coats and ruffled silk shirts. And the deep, nut brown tan clashed markedly with these pale-skinned men of privilege. For them, tanned skin was a mark of social and financial failure.

The shutters of a large breezeway had been thrown open on the starboard side of the riverboat to provide a wide view of the storied river that formed the eastern boundary of the frontier. It was late morning and the Queen was thirty miles upriver of New Orleans.

Fargo carefully scanned the floating traffic. The river was chockablock with steamboats, barges, keelboats, flatboats, skiffs, rafts, and the dugout canoes called pirogues. Pure white egrets dotted the swampy backwaters of the west bank like randomly tossed cotton bolls. Fargo occasionally glimpsed mud-daubed dwellings with thatched roofs, many raised on rickety stilts.

One slip, he reminded himself, one wrong guess, one missed clue and he could find himself on the wrong side of the grass—permanently. And hundreds more, now debauching in blissful ignorance all around him, might be joining him.

“Plague take it!” cursed one of the gamblers. “A straight open at both ends and I can’t fill it. Gentlemen, I yield the field,” he added, folding.

Following the request of his new employer, Fargo had boarded the Creole Queen at her northernmost dock in Louisiana. She was currently the prime example of the luxurious floating palaces now plying the river daily. Such riverboats were seldom used as practical transportation. Some were discreet, convenient, floating dens of elegant iniquity for the very upper crust of society.

The decks were interlaced with teak and mahogany, many of the lavishly furnished saloons and cabins carpeted with velvet pile. An elderly Negro woman in a mobcap and a crisp white apron circulated around the spacious cabin carrying a serving tray filled with all sorts of delicacies and several boxes of fine Havana cigars.

Overhead, cane-inlaid ceiling fans twirled, ingeniously powered by a system of gears driven by the paddle wheels. The steamboat’s barber, a freeman of color named Levi Mosby, was on call to shave any passenger anywhere onboard. At present he was sculpting the pointed Vandyke beard of a portly customer in a chair near the cabin entrance.

For Fargo, however, even amid such opulence and elegance, it was his job once again to stir up the sewage. The Creole Queen and the river formed one more dangerous environment that needed to be scouted more thoroughly than he had time to do.

Abbot Fontaine, drunk and getting drunker, watched Fargo raise binoculars to study the riverbank.

“There he stands in all his buckskin glory, gentlemen,” he announced, “as big and bold as Billy-be-damned! Ensconced among the paying passengers and bulling his way into our inner sanctum.”

“I rather think there’s a good and official reason why Mr. Fargo is here,” Breaux gainsaid. “Although he’s certainly keeping it quiet.”

“Yes, and no doubt a violent reason. I detest violence.”

“It can be overdone,” Fargo agreed absently, eyes scouring the thickly tangled growth beyond the riverbank. “But I tend to enjoy it. Adds a little savor to life.”

Fargo liked goading Fontaine, and now the offended man—widely known as King Cotton—emptied his brandy snifter too quickly.

“Yes, of course. You are the hale and hearty Western man who would sit in an uncomfortable chair for hours and never once cross your legs—that might cast doubt on your manhood.”

Fargo quickly fine-focused the spyglasses. Something had caught his eye among a thick tangle of blackberry brambles.

There . . . there it was again . . . a black plume bobbing in and out of view. . . .

“Abbot,” Justin Breaux objected, “your constant harping on Fargo is childish and tiresome. Frankly he deserves more respect.”

It’s a black-plumed hat, Fargo finally realized. And it was bobbing up and down, most likely because whoever wore it was riding a horse.

“Childish and tiresome, is it?” Fontaine retorted, his dignity offended. “Well, Justin, a hungry dog must eat dirty pudding. His kind does not belong here.”

“‘His kind’ is more unique than our kind. We are merely the idle rich and our kind is the same everywhere. That certainly isn’t true for Fargo.”

Nothing at all unusual about a man in a black-plumed hat riding along a riverbank, Fargo thought. Not a damn thing wrong with it. But it began to canker at him—why did the rider seem to be keeping perfect pace with the Queen?

“I do not deny Fargo’s much ballyhooed manly prowess,” Fontaine huffed as he tossed a discard into the deadwood pile, “although we have no proof it is anything but newspaper hokum. But I repeat: he does not belong here. The law of social subordination is clear and long established. And Southern gentlemen who violate that law are no more refined than darkies or mudsill whites or savage Indians.”

“We are all erring sons of erring men,” Justin Breaux said, trying to smooth the irate kingpin’s ruffled feathers.

Fargo lost sight of the plume when the late-morning sun ducked behind a scud of clouds, turning the surface of the river into a flat sheet the color of wet slate. He chided himself for feeling the jimjams over such a mundane thing as a man riding a horse.

“It is we,” Fontaine was still pontificating, “who are the keepers of the gate. We form the pillars of society, not a man who sleeps belowdecks with his horse and carries a vicious knife in his boot like a common Smoky Row thug.”

Fargo, still watching out across the countless swirls and eddies of the river, spoke up in a bored tone.

“Hey, Fontaine?”

“What?” he snapped as if Fargo were his misbehaving houseboy.

“Did you hear about the two maggots that were making love in dead Ernest?”

Despite being the supposed pillars of Southern society, almost every man in the room burst out laughing at the crude barracks room joke. Fontaine, however, affected a dignified shock.

“My God, you are a primitive, depraved—”

“That’s all gas work. You know why I despise a poncy-man like you? It’s not your jelly belly or your perfumed hair or that whorehouse rouge on your cheeks. It’s the way you hot-jaw me like you’ve got a real set on you, knowing that if I hit you I’ll be called a woman beater.”

Fontaine’s face discovered a new shade of purple as laughter rippled through the cabin. However, the dealer, Caleb Dupree, also deeply resented Fargo. He frowned and snapped, “This is a card game, not a cockfight.”

There . . . Fargo squinted as if gnats were in his eyes, then raised the binoculars again. There was the black plume. Suddenly the rider reached a momentary break in the riverbank growth. For perhaps one second Fargo spotted the horse, a big cream with a black mane and tail. But he barely glimpsed the rider.

It was nothing to fret. Less than spider leavings. But when Fargo spotted a metallic glint, a tight bubble swelled fast in his stomach and his back broke out in cool sweat.

“Hit the deck!” he bellowed. “Everybody hit the deck now!”

Even as he raised the warning, however, the sound of the hidden marksman’s weapon must have been absorbed by the river commotion and the paddle wheels thrashing. But there was no mistaking the liquid, bursting sound before the barber dropped like a stone.

“Suffering Moses!”

The Negro woman’s tray crashed to the floor, and she stared in wordless horror at the pebbly clots of bloody brain matter splattering the fancy fleur-de-lis wallpaper.

2

Fargo quickly inspected his rig for burrs or damage and checked the Ovaro for saddle galls. The Ovaro was in a foul and rebellious mood and only with some difficulty did Fargo slip the bit in and the bridle on. He threw on the blanket, pad, and saddle and lifted a stirrup out of the way to tighten the girth.

“Damn you, beast,” he muttered when the stallion craned his neck around and tried to bite him on the ass. “I don’t like this cooped-up-on-the-river shit any more than you do.”

Despite his powerful haunches and thick chest, or his ability to easily clear a fence as high as his withers, the black-and-white pinto’s breeding showed in ears so delicate Fargo could trace the veins when he led him into bright sunlight above on the main deck—ears so sensitive they had repeatedly saved Fargo’s life.

The Ovaro tried twice more to bite Fargo as he led him down the gangplank in New Orleans. The stallion needed a good leg-stretching after long hours in a clean but cramped stall, and Fargo had spotted the perfect place to do it.

The huge, grassy hump of the river levee was crowned by a flat dirt path and at present free of pedestrians. Fargo walked the pinto to loosen him up and then forked leather, gigging his mount up quickly to a canter and then a lope. The Ovaro broke into a gallop on his own despite the stifling heat and humidity, and Fargo gave him his head.

The wide brown expanse of the muddy river lay just below him to his right. It was this river—still known to many farther west by its French name, the Colbert—that brought river cities like St. Louis and New Orleans so much wealth. But the slave ships, too, sailed up it, as did many of the plagues that killed so many, transported by infected rats or sailors.

And as Fargo had witnessed only hours ago, it attracted two-legged vermin, too.

He returned to the dock at the end of Canal Street just as two crewmen were carrying Levi Mosby’s body off the Creole Queen on a blanket-covered stretcher.

“Fargo!”

The riverboat’s skipper, Captain Sandy Fairfax, hurried down the gangplank toward him. He was a barrel-chested Kaintuck with a huge soup-strainer mustache. The folds of scar tissue marring a once ruggedly handsome face resulted from a boiler explosion on the Ohio River in the 1840s.

“It’s a dirty business,” he greeted Fargo, nodding toward the stretcher now being loaded into an undertaker’s van.

“The dirtiest,” Fargo agreed.

“The bilge rats doing this,” the master pilot said, “are not just common plug-uglies. They know their business. The threat may not be violence alone.”

He described how the scuttled River Cities Line freight steamer had been expertly sunk in her own berth. Divers working at night had drilled a series of small holes along either side of the single solid timber that composed the freighter’s keel or main structural support, running from bow to stern and anchoring the steamer’s frame. Water had then rushed into the open area between the ballast tanks and the crew quarters. Before the end of the graveyard watch, it rested at the bottom of the river.

“We will put in a few times for longer layovers,” the skipper added, “and we must keep a weather eye out for such shines.”

Fairfax looked around before lowering his voice. “Now, Mrs. Lajeunesse has explained the extortion plot to me. Fargo, she’s the boss now that her husband is dead, and she’s ordered me to keep steaming and damn the dangerous shoals. I’ll do it but her order leaves grit in my duff! The law of seas and rivers makes me the catfish they’ll spear if one of these rich gaffers cops it like Levi did. And what if it’s more than one—plenty more?”

“I don’t like it, either,” Fargo said just before he tugged rein and wheeled the Ovaro. “And the boss lady is going to hear about it real soon. I have an appointment with her in one hour.”

“Keep a weather eye out!” Fairfax called behind him. “That killer wasn’t aiming at a barber!”

Fargo knew the general layout of New Orleans. He bore west on teeming Canal Street away from the river, threading his way through a hopeless maze of pedestrians and conveyances. There were signs everywhere from sunken pavements to sagging buildings that the constantly sinking city was losing its battle with the swamp buried just beneath the veneer of paved solidity.

Canal bordered the Old Quarter, the original heart of the city, and as he rode past, the strings of a worn-out hurdy-gurdy sent notes scraping into the air. They emanated from the raucous, sometimes deadly, two-block stretch of bordellos, dance houses, and gin mills that constituted Gallatin Street, an area no city roundsman entered after dark.

But the tune was quickly lost in the booming roar of nearby cannons. Once again an epidemic of the dreaded yellow fever threatened to cancel New Orleans. Now, all along Canal Street at Sanitation Department orders, six-pounders pointed at heaven regularly released thundering volleys—the latest attempt to disperse the “noxious miasma” smothering the city in disease.

Fargo’s appointment was in Old Lafayette, the area sometimes called the Garden District, where wealthy outsiders tended to settle. He had some time to kill and veered off into the Old Quarter, which occupied the huge crescent where the Mississippi entered the city.

The place was thronged with pedestrians and pushcarts, so Fargo lit down to lead the Ovaro. He shooed away the little girls trying to sell him oysters, matches, and honeycombs. Street artists, “astrological doctors,” fortune-tellers and palm readers were set up all around Jackson Square. On a lark, Fargo flipped two bits into a mulatto woman’s coin jar and sat on a three-legged stool to have his palm read.

“A strong hand,” she approved, “and strong destiny lines.”

But as she held his hand in hers, interpreting those strong lines, a frown settled over her features.

“You have faced much danger in your life and you will face much more. This long line from the heel of your palm almost to the first finger: that is the life line. Look close.”

Fargo watched as she traced the line until her finger stopped. A dot of blood smaller than a flea blocked the life line.

“I must’ve nicked it,” Fargo said dismissively.

She shook her head adamantly. “No. It is a warning. You did not come to me of your own choice—the impulse you felt was fate tickling you.”

“You’re the boss,” Fargo said, playing along. “I am a mite ticklish.”

She studied his hand a minute longer, shaking her head and muttering.

“The blood is a warning,” she repeated. “There will soon be a place—yes, a hidden and lonely place. A dangerous place you must not enter. If you do, you will never leave it alive.”

Fargo grinned, but just barely. “Say . . . I thought for two bits you’d tell me I’m about to meet a beautiful woman.”

“You will soon meet two beautiful women,” she assured him. “Your problem will be staying alive long enough to enjoy either one of them.”

•   •   •

Late-afternoon sunshine suffused the city in a golden haze by the time Fargo reached the lush flower gardens and Greek Revival opulence of Old Lafayette.

Despite all this wealthy elegance, the occasional goat or horse ran loose in the streets. Every mansion was surrounded by a short iron fence to restrain rooting pigs that wandered in from the filthier environs of New Orleans.

Fargo reined onto Harmony Street and rode past the portico fronts and iron lacework balconies of gleaming white mansions occupied by some of the wealthiest people in the South. He turned in at one with a massive side yard fragrant with azaleas and bougainvillea.

Several iron posts with metal hitching rings stood out front, but Fargo decided to hobble the Ovaro instead. If something spooked him in this strange environment, he might snap the reins and escape.

Fargo threw the bridle and loosed the girth, then ascended a flight of marble steps. He banged a brass knocker on the thick oak door and a young Negro maid answered almost immediately. She flinched as if a warpath Apache were standing on the porch, her eyes raking over the tall, handsome, intimidating, vastly out-of-place frontiersman.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Lajeunesse, ma’am,” he said, touching the brim of his hat. “She’s expecting me. The name is Skye Fargo.”

“Yessir. Miz Stella say I s’pose to show you out back.”

For a moment, just before Fargo removed his hat to step inside, a motion in the corner of his left eye caught his attention.

He glanced quickly across the side yard toward an oak-lined street beyond it, bordered by hedges. Fargo spotted nothing dangerous, but it was a tall hedge—and maybe it was only his frazzled nerves, but he thought a flash of something black had alerted him.

Fargo followed the maid through the spacious house and wished he had wiped his boots. He trooped through a large and airy front parlor dominated by a satin circular sofa and cane-bottom armchairs. The maid next led him into a dining room with fancy wainscoted walls and candles in pewter sconces. A mile-long table was set with Limoges porcelain and glittering silver tureens. It reminded Fargo he needed to punish some food.

“Do I have to pay an admission fee?” he quipped.

“No, sir,” the maid answered solemnly, still sneaking curious peeks at what was no doubt the stately home’s first buckskin-clad visitor.

Fargo had not yet met or spoken with Stella Lajeunesse, only with master sleuth Allan Pinkerton in St. Louis, who had tracked him down at her urgent request. She waited for him on a wrought-iron bench in a gazebo at the center of a beautifully terraced flower garden. His first glimpse of the newly widowed owner of the River Cities Steamboat Line coaxed Fargo’s lips into a surprised smile.

She was a prime specimen of the privileged, hoop-skirted, peach-complexioned Southern beauty. Although no blushing debutante, she was much younger and far more beautiful than Fargo had expected. She wore her gleaming mahogany hair in fetching lovelocks, small curls fastened to her temples.

Stella Lajeunesse was as openly curious about him as her maid had been. She studied Fargo with keen interest as she moved over to make room for him on the bench.

“I’m a great believer in first impressions,” she said in a brisk, pleasant, in-charge tone. “And I believe I’ve hired the right man. Especially after what happened on the river earlier today.”

Fargo didn’t consider himself officially hired yet, but he let that pass for now. “So you’ve heard about Levi Mosby?”

The pretty face clouded. “Yes. Captain Fairfax telegraphed while the Queen was taking on wood at Donaldsonville.”

“Fairfax thinks that bullet was meant for me,” Fargo said, watching her closely.

“Yes. So do I. And I’m sure you do, too.”

“Yeah. And since I didn’t board the Queen all that much earlier,” Fargo continued, “that tells me at least one of the extortionists Pinkerton mentioned, or a paid dirt worker, is aboard. Somebody alerted that ambusher mighty quick.”

She nodded. “I was the one who had to inform Levi’s wife. The poor woman is so stricken I brought her home with me.”

“One thing I don’t quite understand,” Fargo said. “Levi was a freeman, but other coloreds on the riverboat are slaves.”

“Technically the slaves are indentured servants. Under agreements I arranged with them after my husband died, three years of labor for River Cities Line buys them their freedom and the right to become salaried workers. That right is legally guaranteed no matter who buys the company.”

When Fargo refused to praise this supposed generosity, she cleared her throat awkwardly.

“As for Levi, there has always been a large community of free colored people in New Orleans. Some are quite prominent in commercial circles. By Southern standards this is a tolerant city.”

A note of bitterness crept into her tone. “Unfortunately much else is tolerated, too. The criminality and corruption defy belief. That is why I must turn to you. Whoever is behind this vicious extortion may be too prominent and protected from prosecution.”

Fargo tossed out one hand to indicate the luxurious surroundings. “I get the distinct impression you must be prominent, too.”

She shook her head. “I’m only wealthy, and I’m an outsider from the high South. So was my late husband. In Louisiana fortunes are either very old money or come from sugarcane, rice, or cotton—especially cotton. My husband, as the owner of a steamship line, was a bit too much like a Northern industrialist. And unfortunately the original owner of the River Cities Line was William Chapman.”

“The name doesn’t ring a bell,” Fargo said.

“He’s dead now. He launched the original showboats in the 1830s. At first they were wholesome family entertainment, but by the early 1850s women and children were banned and the most disgraceful acts imaginable were featured. The patrons had degenerated to men boarding with pistols and flasks crammed into their pockets.”

Fargo nodded. “I was in Hannibal, Missouri, once when an outraged posse met a showboat at the landing and drove it off.”

“Yes, and the deeper south you go, the greater the outrage. When my husband bought River Cities four years ago from Chapman’s widow, the riverboat performers were all armed and the ushers all former pugilists. My husband changed all that with the Creole Queen. Ironically his boat is the darling of the upper crust, but his vague association with Chapman stigmatizes him—and me.”

Fargo wasn’t sure what “stigmatize” meant, but it was easy to guess. He glanced left toward the oak-lined street. As the day waned, shadows were deepening, creating handy pockets that could hide a careful assassin. Damn it, had he seen a flash of black earlier?

“There’s an even bigger problem for me,” Stella confided. “The power elite in this city are all from old, established Louisiana families. And this is a city where social leaders demand a cosmopolitan charm and conversational grace from the wealthy. But my husband, frankly, was an impatient man of clichés and stock rejoinders. He had only one passion besides capitalism, and that was his constant and loud demands for honest government and police.”

Fargo nodded. “I take your drift. Honest government in any city would soon fill the jails with rich men and their lawyers.”

“Yes, but particularly in New Orleans. Even my husband’s death doesn’t release me from the ‘crusader’ taint. And I’ll be candid. I know about your . . . methods. Perhaps your very name will dissuade these monsters.”

Fargo shrugged, casting another glance toward the shadowy side street. “I admit I’m a paid killer. By the time folks hire me, that’s generally the only option left. But I’m not a murderer and I don’t abet crimes—nothing too serious, anyhow. If I take the job, I’ll push this deal as far as I need to and hope I can help you out so long as you’re on the square with me.”

If you take the job? Allan Pinkerton gave me to understand that you already have.”

“There are problems,” Fargo replied.

“Such as . . . ?”

“Well, you just mentioned your husband’s death. Pinkerton tells me it was ruled ‘death by misadventure’ while cleaning his pistol.” Fargo didn’t add Pinkerton’s quip that perhaps it was death by Miss Adventure.

“What of it?” she demanded. “As if I can’t guess. It’s the merry-widow tale with murder thrown in.”

Pinkerton had indeed accepted Stella as a client. And he had assigned one of his best operatives, former St. Louis constable John Fowler, to the case.

But he had also explained to Fargo that Louisiana was still under the Napoleonic Code of Law, which held that a widow was not financially or criminally liable for the failure of any business venture started by her husband. If the Creole Queen was somehow destroyed, it would sink the River Cities line but her huge personal fortune would be protected.

And according to Pinkerton, Stella Lajeunesse was occasionally being forced to use her own money to keep stock prices solid. She also considered the business an albatross and had failed to find a buyer for it. Pinkerton’s investigation showed she was eager to sell her Garden District home and move permanently to her villa in Paris.

Meaning, Fargo had to bear in mind, that all this business with hiring him and a Pinkerton, and the “extortion plot” itself, could be an act to throw suspicion off her.

“Pinkerton didn’t call you a murderer or a merry widow,” Fargo replied. “So sheathe your claws. But Allan always has to worry about his clients trying to use him to frame evidence. I don’t like it, either. You’re a beautiful woman, Mrs. Lajeunesse, and my first impression is that you’re honest. But if I sign on, I plan to chop wood and let the chips fall where they may. Don’t count on me or John Fowler if you can’t face that.”

She opened her mouth to reply, but just then Fargo heard the Ovaro give his urgent trouble whicker from out front.

“’Scuze me, ma’am,” Fargo said as he sprang to his feet and knocked the riding thong off the hammer of his Colt. “Right now I don’t think my name is scaring anybody.”

3

Fargo stayed outside and sprinted up the long north side of the mansion, dodging and vaulting birdbaths and marble statuettes, trampling a flower bed he couldn’t avoid. He paused at the front corner of the house only long enough to assess the weaponry of the four raffish thugs trying, unsuccessfully, to close in on the Ovaro.

Despite being hobbled, the fierce stallion could still rear high and use those dangerously hard and pointy front hooves.

“Stand clear of that horse,” Fargo warned, “or I’ll kill the pack of you for cause.”

The street hooligans all wore billycock hats and ragged butternut-dyed clothing. They did back off several feet at sight of Fargo’s six-gun, but then stood their ground jeering at him. “Look-a-here, chappies!” one called out. “Is it Dan’l Boone hisself, come to Looz’ana to skin a pelican?”

“’At jasper ain’t Dan’l Boone,” chimed in another. “Why, he’s a wild Indian! His name use to be Licking Red Beaver. But he licked too damn much of it, see, and now he’s called Running Sore.”

The four sewer rats went into gales of mirth, and even Fargo felt a grin twitching his lips. He’d have to remember that one. . . .

“You boys take your act on the road,” Fargo said. “You’re entertaining but you’re still horse thieves. Clear out or die laughing.”

“We ain’t stealing your fuggin’ beast, mountain man,” said a third thug. “We just want to glom that tree trunk of a cock on him. You don’t see no uncut horses in the city.”

“I said dust,” Fargo ordered, thumbing back the hammer.

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