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Keeping his eyes on the big man before him, Fargo reached back, plucked the coin pouch off the bar, and thrust it against the man’s chest, the coins clinking around inside.

The freighter dropped his gaze to the pouch, returned it to Fargo.

The Trailsman held the man’s hard glare.

The freighter lurched forward, red-faced, swinging his ham-sized right fist toward Fargo’s face.

The Trailsman, anticipating the punch, grabbed the man’s wrist and, pivoting, bulled the man’s back against the bar and thrust the man’s hand out across the planks. Pressing his own back against the man’s chest, wedging him against the bar, Fargo reached out with his free hand, plucked the knife from the bar top, and slammed it through the freighter’s open palm and into the wood….

THE TRAILSMAN #316

BEYOND SQUAW CREEK

by Jon Sharpe

1

“I bet you could do a lot of damage with that thing—couldn’t you, Mr. Fargo?” the major’s daughter asked.

Skye Fargo ran his lake blue eyes across the girl’s willowy frame, the proud breasts pushing up from the shirtwaist of her traveling dress—pale and lightly freckled and sheathing a small jade cameo, the same green of her eyes, hanging by a gold chain. Her shirtwaists had been getting tighter and tighter over the past few days since the party had left Fort Mandan, exposing more and more of her cleavage.

The stagecoach was parked in a canyon of White-Tail Creek, in western Dakota Territory. Valeria Howard sat in a canvas chair before the stage’s left front wheel, holding a parasol over her regal head of bright red hair. Fargo sat on the ground ten feet away from her, his back to a boulder, sharpening his Arkansas toothpick on the whetstone perched on his thigh.

The soldiers escorting the stage from Fort Mandan had taken their own mounts and the stage’s four-horse hitch down to the creek for water.

“Miss Howard, you got no idea,” Fargo said.

Her nose wrinkled and her jade eyes glinted snootily as she continued staring at the knife on his thigh. “A rather uncouth customer, aren’t you?”

“Wanna see?”

“Do I want to see what?”

“How much damage I can do with this thing.”

Fargo followed her smoky gaze to his lap then glanced up at her, curling his upper lip. “The knife is the…uh…thing we’re talking about, isn’t it, Miss Howard?”

Her eyes snapped up, and a flush rose in her cream cheeks. She opened her mouth to speak but only gasped when Fargo snapped up the toothpick suddenly, and sent the six inches of razor-edged, bone-handled steel careening through the air in front of her.

She recoiled as the knife whistled past her, missing the sleeve of her muslin blouse by a half inch, to cleave the gap between two wheel spokes and bury itself, hilt deep, in one of the two brown eyes staring out from behind the hub. The Indian made a gagging sound as his head snapped back, lower jaw dropping, the remaining eye wide open.

As the girl fell over in her chair, her feathered, lemon yellow hat tumbling off her shoulder, Fargo bounded onto his knees and clawed his Colt .44 from its holster. He aimed quickly at one of the two Indians bounding onto the stage’s roof from the other side, and fired.

The bullet plunked through the medicine pouch dangling from the neck of the brave standing near the driver’s box. As the brave screamed and pitched backward off the coach, throwing his bow and arrow over his head, the second brave leaped forward atop a steamer trunk, gave a savage war cry, and loosed an arrow.

The feathered missile shaved a couple of whiskers from Fargo’s right cheek as it whistled past his ear to clatter against the sandstone scarp behind him.

Fargo triggered the Colt twice, the slugs hammering into the brave’s neck and breastbone, pinwheeling him off the coach in twin streams of geysering blood.

“Stay down!” Fargo hurdled Valeria Howard, cowering on the ground beside her overturned chair, and climbed the stage to the driver’s box.

Holding the cocked Colt in his right hand, he leaped onto the wooden seat, and then from the seat to the sandstone wall on the other side of the stage, his boots finding a narrow ledge while his left hand reached for a gnarled cedar.

As he looked up and right, a brave peered down at him from behind a thumb of rock, his face streaked with yellow and ocher war designs, eyes wide with rage. The brave raised a feathered war lance but before he could cock his throwing arm, Fargo drilled a round through his forehead, blowing him back off the scarp with a grunt, the lance clattering down the rocks behind him.

Clinging to the gnarled cedar, the .44 smoking in his right hand, the man known as the Trailsman turned to peer south through a break in the opposite canyon wall.

Since just after he’d cleaved the first buck’s head with his Arkansas toothpick, he’d heard sporadic gunfire and war whoops from the direction of the creek. Through the cottonwoods lining the stream, he spied smoke puffs, prancing horses, and soldiers scrambling to repel the Indians attacking from the creek’s far side. Several of the savages rode horses and triggered pistols and repeating rifles while others, running afoot, loosed arrows and heaved war lances.

The soldiers returned fire while trying to hold the reins of their frightened bays.

As Fargo watched, several soldiers and cavalry mounts went down screaming, and the Indians continued charging, whooping, and shooting. Only nine soldiers had been assigned to the stagecoach carrying not only the beautiful daughter of Major Howard, the commander of Fort Clark, but two army surveyors detailed to Fort Clark to plot the site of a planned sister fort near the mouth of the Wolf Head River.

Seven soldiers and the two surveyors had gone down to the creek to water the horses while, as per Fargo’s orders, two privates kept watch from the butte tops. It appeared now, as two more soldiers were shot from their mounts and an Indian knelt beside a wounded surveyor, wielding a knife with which he no doubt intended to relieve the man of his hair, that none were coming back.

A spine-jellying scream rose from below. Fargo looked into the canyon. A brave stood over Valeria Howard, leaning down to smash the back of his right hand across the girl’s face with a resounding smack. He pulled her up brusquely and, using both hands, ripped her shirtwaist down the front then threw his head back to loose a delighted whoop toward the sky.

Fargo raised the .44, but he couldn’t see clearly over the stage roof.

He holstered the Colt and scrambled back along the rock wall. Dropping onto the stage, he raked the .44 from its holster. Off the coach’s south side, the Indian had crouched to fling the major’s daughter over his back like a sack of parched corn.

Naked to her waist, the blouse hanging in tatters around her thighs, the girl kicked, screamed, and pounded

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