Saturday, July 16, 2005

 

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XIX

INVESTIGATION

ROBBINS and Craig reached town the next morning rather early. They went at once to the freight office, and waited around outside until the agent arrived. After chatting amicably for a moment about the weather, Robbins broached the subject.
“Any stock been shipped lately?”
The agent glanced up from sorting a sheaf of waybills and shook his head.
“Nothin' but a few horses. No orders for cars either. This ain't quite the right time for cattle to be shipped, anyhow. Our biggest business in that line won't begin for nearly a month yet.”
“Uh-huh. Well, thanks.”
He turned away. Then struck by a thought, he again approached the agent.
“How about any of the other towns? Hear of any cattle bein' shipped anywhere else? I'd kinda like to know.”
The man squinted out of a window, seemingly searching his mind for some elusive memory.
“Now that yuh speak of it, I do remember some-thin' of an order goin' over the wires for ten cars to be left at Morgan City. Uh-huh, I'm positive of it. I remember I was waitin' for the wire to c1ear so's I could send a telegram for Melvin Kurtz to his boss.”
Robbins' interest quickened.
“Telegram to Kurtz's boss?”
“Yeah. Somethin' about rustlers grabbin' off two hundred head of Big Bear cattle. The owner of the Big Bear lives up north somewhere, yuh know.”
“No, I didn't know,” Robbins told him glibly, hoping for more information.
“Well, he does, whether yuh knew it or not. Anyhow, I don't think I can give yuh any more information about cattle bein' shipped.”
“How about the date those ten cars were to be in Morgan City? Know that?”
The freight agent shook his head.
“I don't remember whether I caught that or not. Usually takes four or five days to get cars, though, so they likely intend to ship to-day or to-morrow.
“Likely. Well, thanks again. Come on, Pete, let's go.”
They left the freight office and Robbins turned into Del Rio's main street.
“Whatcha think of Kurtz losin' stock?” asked Craig as they strode along the sidewalk. They had left their horses tied to a hitch rack in front of the post office.
“I dunno,” his companion replied thoughtfully. “Sort of looks like the rustlers are gettin' more nervy, don't it, pickin' on a big outfit that way. Still, I don't see why the Big Bear's cattle aren't just as good as any other outfit's when it comes to havin' beef stolen.”
“That's what I think. Where yuh goin'?”
“Thought I'd call on the sheriff and his festive deputy. I'd kinda like to get some more information on recent criminal activities in our fair city. I'm not particularly enthused over this bein' accused of murder and robbery, so I'm kinda cravin' to get the low-down on the party or parties who have been draggin' my name in the mire of iniquity. Guess the sheriff is up. Leastways, his door is open, and besides it's time he was tendin' to his sheriffin'.”
Kelson was sitting at a battered desk, a desk that was sadly in need of revarnishing, poring over some reward notices. Burns, the deputy, was nowhere in evidence. The sheriff glanced up sourly as the two C Bar men entered, and put the circulars down. Apparently he was in no bright and shining mood.”
“What do you gents want?” he growled.
Robbins grinned and offered him the “makin's.”
“Just thought we'd drop in and pass the time of day with you, that's all.”
“Well, you can drop right out again. I've got more important things to do than fool away my time gossipin' with a couple of no-account punchers.”
“Ain't he got a good opinion of us, though?” grinned Craig. “Bill, don't waste no tobacco on him if that's the way he feels. Honest, sheriff, yuh ought to be highly honored because we'd take the time to call on yuh this way.”
Kelson stared at them suspiciously, while he accepted the cigarette papers and the sack of tobacco Robbins handed to him.
“What's on you fellas' minds? You didn't come here all the way from the C Bar just to talk about the weather. Now did you?”
“You've got the goods on us, Kelson,” laughed Robbins. “No one can fool yore active mind, I can see that. We'll have to confess that we came to learn more about the bank robbery. Find out any-thin' else?”
Kelson sniffed disgustedly.
“Naw, dang it! I sure thought I had you clinched, young fella, and I dunno yet but what I'm lookin' at the right party this minute! How's the wounded arm?”
“Kinda stiff, but I can get along with it. The bullet didn't hit any bones, and the old muscles will be good as new again as soon as the hole gets closed. Where's that marvelous deputy of yores?”
The sheriff snorted in vast contempt.
“Oh, him? He got huffy because he couldn't think of a comeback when I told him he was all right in his place, only he didn't have no place, and I had to send him to Morgan City to keep from shootin' the dang fool. Whatcha wanta know about the robbery?“
He handed back the tobacco and packet of brown papers and Robbins rolled a smoke before answering.
“Why, all the details. I'd like to see the bank, too. Didn't anybody discover Fisher until Miner opened up?”
“Not that I know of. The first thing I knew of it was when Miner came runnin' in here actin' like a hen with its head cut off and bellowin' somethin' about murder, robbery, and I don't know what else. Soon as I could get him calmed down enough so's I could understand what had happened I girds on my gun, drags George outa bed and goes down to the bank.
“There was a crowd around, but Miner had had sense enough to lock the door before comin' after me, and nothin' was disturbed. Fisher was sittin' in a chair in the middle of the floor with his head hangin' down on his chest. He'd been shot under the heart.
“Right beside him was the rest of the rope that had been used to tie him in the chair, and yore knife, which you might as well take, I suppose. I ain't got any use for it now that my case against you has been smashed.”
He opened a drawer and took out the pearl-handled knife and gave it to the cowboy. Robbins glanced at it and was about to put it in his pocket when some peculiarity about it struck his eye. He looked at it more closely, and discovered a short, red-tipped match in the slot left by the broken blade. He made no mention of this, however, but placed the knife in his pocket quickly.
“Yuh saw the back door was open, didn't yuh? Pried open? Did yuh find a crowbar or somethin'?”
Kelson shook his head.
“No, but the lock is sprung, and the bars of the gratin' over it were sawed enough to let a man through. Then there are marks around the edge of the door showin' it had been forced open.”
“I see. Any objection to us lookin' the place over, or isn't the bank closed?“
“It's closed, all right. Miner had to send to Morgan City for enough money to tide him over, and the bank is closed till it gets here. I suppose it won't do no harm to let you two in, though I dunno what yuh want to see the place for. Fisher's body is at the coroner's.”
“Who's the coroner?“ Craig asked.
“Doc Dickson.”
“Where did the bullet go that killed Fisher?“ Robbins wanted to know. “Did it go clear through him, or not?”
“Lodged against the spine. The Doc got it out and gave it to me. Want to see it?“
“Yeah.”
Kelson drew a steel-jacketed pellet of lead from the pocket of his vest and showed it to the two men. Fisher's body had not harmed it, and it was not marked or dented save for the scratches caused by the lands of the gun bore through which it had been fired. Robbins turned it over and over curiously in his hands.
“Um. So it's a .38, eh? Most folks in the cattle country carry .44s or .45s, though pretty often yuh run across a .41 on a .45 frame. Can I keep this bullet, sheriff?”
“Yeah, I guess so. Whatcha gonna do, turn detective?”
“Well, maybe. Stranger things than that have been known to happen, as Jonah said when the whale swallowed him. Let's go down to the bank, eh? Gimme a match first, will yuh?”
Kelson fished a match out of his pocket and handed it to the cowboy, who looked at it casually before he struck it on the side of the battered desk. The match was entirely different from the one in the groove of his knife, being longer and having a blue-and-white tip. He lighted his cigarette, his mind busy with various thoughts, and followed Kelson and Craig out into the street and down toward the bank.
The sheriff had the key to the front door, and let them in. The shades had been drawn, and it was quite dark inside. Kelson went swiftly from window to window, letting up the blinds.
“We wedged the back door shut from the inside, George and I,” he said. “Didn't want anybody snoop-in' around while I wasn't here. Otherwise, nothin' has been touched or moved except the cashier's body. The chair he was tied in is right where we found him.”
Robbins could readily see that this was so, for beneath the chair was a dark, dried splotch. Two pieces of rope lay upon the floor near by, one of them stained, the other fairly clean. The puncher inspected both closely. The length that had been used to bind Fisher was about twenty feet long, while the other was perhaps four feet longer. The latter had an ordinary steel hondo on one end, while the other had been freshly cut, fitting one end of the first piece of lariat. The rope was manila, three-strand, a type prominent in the cattle country.
“No tellin' who this belongs to,” he observed to Craig. “Just a common lass' rope, cut in two.”
He glanced into the rifled vault, looked around the banking room casually, and inspected the rear door. Then he returned to the waiting sheriff and Craig, and shrugged his shoulders.
“We might as well be goin', Pete. Not much to be found here. Thanks for showin' us around, sheriff.”
“Thassall right. Come around any time. If yuh ideas about who is robbin' banks, rustlin' cattle, and bumpin' off folks promiscuouslike, let me know, will yuh?”
“I sure will,” promised Robbins. “See yuh again some time. So long.”
He and Craig went outside and went directly to their horses. Swinging into the saddle, they headed eastward.
“Now I suppose we're bound for Morgan City, eh?” Craig questioned when they had left Del Rio far behind them.
Robbins grinned humorously at him.
“Can't keep the old brain from workin', eh? Yeah, that's where we're goin'. Got any ideas as to who that bandit is?”
“Nope, nary idea, unless it's you. Yo're the only one under suspicion as far as I know. If I was you, Bill, I'd be high-tailin' it out of this country. Me—I wouldn't want to live in fear of havin' the prospect of dancin' on the end of a rope ahead of me.”
“Yes, you would!“ scoffed Robbins. “You'd stay right here and dare them to hang yuh! I know you well enough for that, yuh danged ringtailed gilliwampus! Any time you'd run away from a threat I'd eat my hat.”
[End of chapter]
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