Thunderhead Trail

ROUND ONE

“Do you know why they call me Grizz?”

“It's a common name for lumps of stupid,” Fargo said.

And then there was no more talking.

Grizz waded in, his knobby fists raised in an awkward boxing stance. He flung an overhand that Fargo easily ducked. Quickly, Fargo retaliated with two jolts to the ribs that would have knocked other men onto their toes. All Grizz did was grunt.

Fargo sideslipped a jab and rammed a solid right to Grizz's jaw. Grizz's head barely moved an inch. A huge fist drove at Fargo's face and he got his left up to block it. Even so, the force of the blow rocked him on his bootheels and sent pain flaring down his arm to his toes.

Fargo realized this wasn't going to be a short fight.

SIGNET

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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,

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The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
Diablo Death Cry
, the three hundred eighty-fourth volume in this series.

Copyright © Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2013

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

ISBN 978-1-101-63014-3

PUBLISHER'S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

Contents

Title page

Copyright page

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

 

Excerpt from
TRAILSMAN #386

The Trailsman

Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.

The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.

 

1861, in what will one day be Montana—where a bounty is being offered for a killer with horns.

1

Skye Fargo wasn't surprised to find a town where there hadn't been one two years ago. New towns sprang up all the time. This one had a single dusty street and barely twenty buildings but one of them was a saloon.

A crudely scrawled sign Fargo had passed not a hundred yards back said the town was called Trap Door. It seemed a strange choice, but when it came to naming towns, people could be downright peculiar. There was a town he'd stumbled on once called Sludge. The name he liked the most was one he heard about from back east. It was called Intercourse.

He figured naming a town Trap Door was someone's notion of a joke.

He didn't know what to think of the naked woman standing in the middle of the street.

Fargo drew rein to study on what he was seeing. Fargo, a big man, broad of shoulder and hard with muscle, wore buckskins and a white hat so dusty it was brown. A Colt was on his hip, and unknown to anyone else, an Arkansas toothpick was strapped to his leg inside his left boot. Women rated him handsome. Men rated him dangerous.

The woman in the street was in her twenties or so. Long brown hair fell past her bare shoulders.

Her head was down and Fargo couldn't see her face. He did see that she was quaking as if with fear. Her arms were across her breasts and she stood with her legs half crossed.

Fargo looked up the main street and then down it and was further surprised to find there wasn't another living soul in sight.

Just the naked woman and no one else.

Fargo gigged the Ovaro and when the stallion was next to her, he drew rein again and leaned on his saddle horn. He was tempted to say “Nice tits” but he decided to be polite and said, “How do you do, ma'am?”

She didn't look up. All she did was go on quaking.

Scanning the street again, Fargo said, “Folks don't wear clothes in these parts?”

Her hair was over her face and when she raised her head just a little, a single green eye peered out at him.

“You shouldn't,” she said.

“How's that, ma'am?” Fargo said while admiring the rest of her.

“You shouldn't talk to me,” she said, her voice trembling like she was. “It's not safe.”

“Safe for who?”

“You, mister. He won't like it. He'll hurt you, or worse. Or his brothers will.”

Fargo looked around yet again. Horses were at hitch rails and a cat was licking itself but they were the only signs of life. “Where is everybody?”

“Hiding.”

“From who?”

“Mister, please,” she said, practically pleading. “Ride on before it's too late.”

“I was thinking of wetting my whistle.” Fargo hadn't had a drink in a week and a whiskey would go down smooth.

“God, no. You don't want to. Light a shuck before one of them looks out and sees us.”

Just then there was a loud crash from the saloon and a burst of gruff laughter.

The woman nearly jumped out of her skin. She quaked harder and balled her hands, her fingernails biting into her palms.

“You have a name?”

“Just go. Please.”

Fargo bent down and carefully parted her hair with a finger. She didn't try to stop him. He spread it wide so he could see her face, and a ripple of fury passed through him.

Her left eye was fine but the right eye was swollen half shut. Her right cheek was swollen to twice its size and was turning black and blue, and blood had trickled from the corner of her mouth and dried on her chin. Someone had clouted her, clouted her good.

“Well, now,” Fargo said.

“Please,” she said again.

“How long have you been standing here?”

“I don't rightly know. An hour, I suppose. Ever since they rode in and he got mad at me for not wanting to sit on his lap.”

“I need a handle,” Fargo said.

“Folks call him Grizz on account of that's what he looks like. Him and his two brothers show up from time to time to have a frolic, as they call it.”

“How about your own?”

“It's Candice.” She glanced over her shoulder at the saloon. “God, you're taking an awful chance. For the last time, please skedaddle or they're liable to do you harm.”

“Where did your clothes get to?”

Candice looked down at herself and closed her good eye and a tear trickled from it. “Grizz ripped them off me after he hit me and I was lying on the floor. He said as how he'd teach me to mind him and told me to come out here and stand until he hollered for me to come back.”

“Well, now,” Fargo said again. “I reckon I'll have that drink.” He raised his reins but she clutched at his leg.

“I'm begging you. Go before it's too late. I don't want you stomped or killed on my account.”

“You say he has two brothers with him?”

Candice nodded. “Rance and Kyler. They're almost as snake-mean as Grizz. Rance carries a Sharps everywhere and Kyler is partial to a big knife. You don't want to rile either of them. Both will kill a man as soon as look at him.”

“You don't say.”

She removed her hand. “Now that you know, fan the breeze.”

Fargo clucked to the Ovaro and made for the hitch rail.

“Wait,” Candice said. “Where are you going?”

“To do some riling,” Fargo said.

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