Friday, July 08, 2005





AS soon as the men had gone and the door had c1osed after them, Craig put the lamp upon the table, which, strangely enough, had escaped devastation, and sat down upon the mattress. Robbins seated himself on the remaining chair.
“Nothin' like a little exercise before yuh hit the hay, is there?” he remarked dryly. “Whatcha lookin' so glum about, cowboy?”
Craig was in no mood for banter. He sensed something more serious than a mere drunken grudge under the events of the evening.
“Yuh don't need to sit there and grin like a dang monkey at me,” he said. “I know you, Bill Robbins. Come on, let's have it!”
“Have what?” inquired his friend innocently. “I don't know what yo're talkin' about.”
“Like blazes you don't!” scoffed Craig. “Do yuh mean to sit there and try to make me believe that somebody broke in here to kill you merely because he didn't like yore looks? Tell that to Sweeney! There's more reason than that, and you know it! So yuh might as well tell me, first as last
“Well, I dunno as I can tell yuh any more than yuh knows already, Pete. Honest, now. Of course, I'm not kiddin' myself into believin' some drunk wanted to pour some lead into me. It's deeper than that, but just what it is I can't tell yuh. I don't know myself, but I think it ties in with all the rest of the dirty work goin' on here. I figure that our particular playmate, Whortle or whoever it is who's directin' the operations, found out we were here and thought it was a good chance to put me out of the way.”
“I had an idea it was somethin' of the sort, but wasn't sure. Say, maybe it has somethin' to do with that warnin.
Robbins shook his head.
“No-o, I don't think so,” he drawled. “The twenty-four hours they gave us isn't quite up yet. H'm—that reminds me.”
He drew the warning from his pocket and studied it, reading it over several times. Then he did the same with the forged bill of sale, comparing the writing of the note with the signatures on the bill of sale. As he did this he started and sat up straight, whereat Craig got up quickly and went to him, peering over his shoulder.
“We're gradually gettin' closer to the truth, Pete,” the cowboy exulted. “Look here. The man who wrote this warnin' is the same one who signed the name of Melvin Kurtz to this bill of sale.”
“Fact. See the ‘n' in Melvin? Now look at the ‘n' in the word coffin, the last word of the warnin'. There's the same identical little hook at the end of each letter. It's not so noticeable on the other ‘n's' because they occur in the middle of a word, but these two are as much alike as two peas!”
Craig stared, fascinated.
“Well, I'm damned!” he sputtered. “Bill, you've hit it! If we can only get a sample of Whortle's writin' we'll have the goods on him! Can't we kill one of his cows, pay him for it, and make him give us a receipt?”
Robbins grinned.
“We could, I suppose,” he answered dryly. “Only all the receipt we'd get would be a bullet, I'm afraid. But let's not worry ourselves sick over it, partner. There ain't nothin' so dirty it won't come out in the wash, and I'm thinkin' there's gonna be a lot of scrubbin' done pretty soon.”
Kelson was eating breakfast when they strolled into the restaurant the next morning. He greeted them and motioned them to seats at his table.
“Heard you had quite a time last night,” he said. “I heard the shots and was goin' up when I met the landlord, Scroggins, and he said everythin' was all right except he was beefin' about how his furniture was wrecked. So I didn't bother you gents. Whatcha gonna eat?”
Robbins and Craig inspected the menu.
“H'm, I dunno,” the former replied. “I'm not so awful hungry this mornin', so I'll only have some oatmeal and cream, ham and eggs and potatoes, and a couple cups of coffee.”
Kelson stared.
The cowboy grinned and asked about Burns. The sheriff's face sobered.
“Doe Dickson has the body now. The funeral will be to-morrow afternoon. Most everybody will come, I presume.”
“Yeah. We'll be here if we can, too.”
“Speakin' of George, that leaves me without a deputy, yuh know, Robbins. I've been thinkin' the matter over, and I wonder if you'd take the job? At first I thought you was nothin' but a killer, a trouble maker. Mat Whortle and some of his men gave me that idea, I'll admit, but I can see flow they was grindin' their own ax. I think yo're a mighty good man to tie to, from what I've seen of you, Robbins, and I'd like awful well to have you as my deputy.”
“That's fine of you, Kelson, but I'm sorry I can't accept. Yuh see, as long as the C Bar is in trouble. I've got to stick with Crimins, and I can do more good there than I could as a deputy.”
“Yes, but still I'd like to have you workin' with me. Tell yuh what. Will yuh act as a special deputy if I swear yuh in? That way yuh can stay at the C Bar just the same, and the only difference will be that you'll have authority to deal with rustlers or killers as yuh see fit, and can do it legally. What do yuh say to that?”
There was an undoubted advantage in such an arrangement, and Robbins was not slow to see it.
“That'll help a lot,” he acquiesced. “Of course, law don't seem to count for much in this country, but in case anythin' comes up later it's best to be on the side of the law rather than against it.”
“Good. If you'll stand up and raise yore right hand, I'll swear you in now.”
The puncher complied readily. When he had taken oath, Kelson drew a deputy sheriff's badge from his pocket and pinned it on the inside of Robbins' vest.
Breakfast arrived then, and conversation lagged while the two punchers attacked their ham and eggs ravenously, and the sheriff finished his meal. Presently, when his appetite had been somewhat appeased, Robbins looked up through the window at the front of the restaurant to see two men standing in the door of the saloon across the street. One of them was short and pot-bellied, and around his middle was tied a dirty white apron. Both Robbins and Craig knew him as the rascally bartender who had attempted to aid Catamount Perkins, Les Davids, and another man when the T Square trio had set out to kill Robbins.
There was some haunting familiarity surrounding the second man, but the cowboy could not quite place it.
“Who's that jigger talkin' to Paul Samuels?” he asked the sheriff. “Don't I know him?”
Kelson turned and looked through the window.
“Maybe you don't, but I can see what's puzzlin' you. That's Harry Davids, brother to Les. They look a lot alike, though Harry is a trifle shorter. It's hard to tell which is the most ornery, but I'd place my money on Les. Still, Harry is no tin god on wheels. He works for Whortle, too.”
“Uh-huh. Thanks.”
Robbins had not known that Davids had a brother, and the information interested him. Now that he knew the relationship, he recognized the similarity of features and manners that had puzzled him for the moment. The saloon keeper was talking earnestly with the man, almost argumentatively, it seemed to the watching puncher, who wondered what it was all about. Davids replied sullenly, protestingly, at intervals, and finally strode angrily away, shaking his head vigorously.
As he passed out of sight down the street, Robbins rose quickly, dropping his knife and fork upon his plate. Throwing a silver dollar upon the table, be motioned to Craig.
“Come on, Pete,” he said hurriedly.
Craig stared questioningly at him an instant, shoved a generous morsel of ham into his mouth, and got up. He knew Robbins well enough to see that some important development had arisen, and so made no outward protests. Kelson's eyes widened in surprise and bewilderment as they called a hasty, “So long, sheriff!” to him and hurried out.
“Now I wonder what got into those two jaspers all of a sudden?” he inquired of no one in particular.
“That long-complected fella, Robbins, must have got a bee in his bonnet. Oh, well, it's none of my concern. I've got enough things to worry me.
[End of chapter]
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