Thursday, July 07, 2005





OUT in the street, Robbins took his friend by the arm and steered him in the direction of the sheriff's corral. They walked fast, for Robbins had made up his mind to see what Mr. Harry Davids did and where he went.
“Hey!” protested Craig, jerking his arm free. “What's the big rush?”
“Somethin' is,” Robbins informed him shortly. “Don't ask foolish questions at a time like this. You just trail along and see what happens.”
Davids had mounted a mouse-colored horse standing in front of a general store, and was at this moment riding out of town northwestward. The two C Bar riders saddled up with a good deal of speed, ascertained that they were well supplied with ammunition, not knowing at what moment other shooting affrays might commence, and followed cautiously.
Once outside of Del Rio they were compelled to exercise extreme care that their presence should not become known to the man they were trailing. They were aided somewhat in this by numerous small ridges and thickets of brush, coupled with the fact that Davids appeared to have no intimation whatever that he was being followed. By the time Robbins sighted him, he had got quite a distance ahead.
“He's bound for the T Square, don't yuh think?” Craig asked after a while. “What's the idea of trailin' him, if I may be so bold as to ask such a question?”
Robbins grinned. Craig was a trifle piqued that he had not been taken into his friend's entire confidence.
“Got a hunch that we might learn somethin',” he answered. “He's Les Davids' brother, and we know that his brother is mixed up in this devilment clear to the neck. Maybe my hunch is wrong, but we might as well do this as anythin' else, hadn't we?”
“Yeah, I suppose. We've got to get the deadwood on Whortle and his gang some way.”
So on they rode, keeping far enough behind their man in the event that he should turn around, trailing him over ridge and through thicket and canyon until they were only a few miles from the T Square. It was then that Craig offered a bit of advice that proved its worth within the minute.
“We'd better not go rushin' over these ridges the way we have been. Mightn't it be a good idea if we sorta looked before we leaped? I can't say I hanker to traipse over into a whole nest of T Squarers, and that's what's liable to happen any time now.”
“Chalk up a cross for you,” smiled his companion. “Yore head's good for somethin' besides a hatrack, after all.”
Their horses walked rapidly up a slope over which Davids had passed a few moments before, and the riders checked them at the top and rose in the stirrups to look before they went on. It was well that they did so, for in a hollow not a hundred yards from the top of the ridge two men sat Ianguidly in their saddles conversing earnestly. One of them was Harry Davids. The other was Tom Snider.
“Well, well,” whispered Robbins. “We've run onto a powwow of some kind. There, they've turned north, so let's sort of keep tabs on them.”
Through a great thicket of mesquite, up a canyon and over a mesa they followed the two, always careful not to be seen. The T Square men were obviously not headed for the ranch, which made the trailers increasingly curious. They followed on, however, guns loose in their holsters.
“What's in the wind, do yuh suppose?” queried Craig.
“Whatcha think I am, a mind reader?” retorted Robbins. “Maybe they're leadin' us to a feast.”
They came to the edge of a thicket and Robbins caught the reins of Craig's horse and pulled them quickly back.
“They've stopped,” he whispered hoarsely. 4'There's an old shack and a corral out there in a little basin.”
Silently they dismounted and led their mounts farther back in the brush, tying them securely to a mesquite tree. Then, drawing their rifles from their scabbards, they went forward on foot.
The shack Robbins had spoken of was in the center of a tiny, round hollow. Some time it probably had been the abode of a nester who had incurred the wrath of the surrounding cattlemen to the extent that he had been killed or driven out of the country. Now it was abandoned, and unfrequented save for occasional instances when some wandering cowboy spread his blankets within its portals for the night, or when the semiannual round-ups drifted close to it.
The C Bar men took up their position at the edge of the thicket, well hidden from any one who did not approach the spot closely, and looked forth through a screen of mesquite and juniper. A large-boned pinto was in the corral, fully saddled and bridled, but minus a rider. In front of the door of the shack stood the horses of Harry Davids and Tom Snider, and as the hidden cowboys watched, their owners came out of the shack, accompanied by another man.
At sight of the latter Robbins stiffened and shoved forward the muzzle of his rifle. Craig breathed deeply, but did not move. The third man was Les Davids, and he was carrying a small package under his left arm. The three stopped near the horses and stood talking. From where they lay, at the edge of the brush, Robbins and Craig could hear quite well.
“The boss says do it, and that's all there is to it,” Les Davids was saying. “Forget everythin' else, or you'll be sorry yuh didn't. When he says a thing, he means it, and I'm not kiddin'.”
“Well, what does he want us to do?” Snider demanded sullenly. “I'm havin' enough trouble without stirrin' up some more. Kelson is out for my scalp, thinkin' it was me instead of you who killed Burns, and I don't dare show my face. What did yuh want to hit Burns so hard for, anyhow? If that wasn't a brainless thing to do I never heard of one.”
Davids kicked at the dirt and shrugged his shoulders.
“How was I to know the dang fool would have such a thin skull?” he asked defensively. “The boss told me to wait there in the dark till he rode up with you and then get you free. What was I to do but lean down off that shed roof as he went by and sock him with that piece of pipe? Did yuh think I ought to have just spirited yuh away, like they do in the fairy books?”
“Aw, what's the use of arguin' with a gent like you, I crave to know?” asked Snider. “Let it pass. What does the boss want us to do?”
“He wants the C Bar burned out, stock and barrel. It don't matter about the men, especially that fella Robbins, but don't harm the girl. She's to be brought here to the boss. He's been crazy about her for a long time, and he says this is his chance to get her and the C Bar as well.”
Snider hitched up his chaps and nodded. He was standing near the head of his horse, facing the brothers, who were side by side. He eyed the package suspiciously.
“All right,” he said. “Whatcha got in the package?”
“Oh, just some things I got in town. Better go on now.”
Snider looked at him quickly.
“Want to get rid of me, eh? I'll go when I see what yuh got there. Here, show me. I wouldn't trust you with a plugged nickel.”
He reached for the package and Davids backed away. Snider got his fingers on it, however, and in the ensuing struggle the parcel dropped to the ground. It split open from the force of the fall, and from it rolled several bright, shining coins! Through the slit in the wrapper showed a sheaf of green-colored bills.
Several things happened in the next ten seconds, and happened with startling suddenness. Snider stepped backward, his eyes flashing from the fallen package to the two Davids. Then, with the swiftness of an infuriated rattlesnake, he clawed his gun from its holster and fired. Harry Davids, sensing his object, had leaped forward, trying to reach him and knock the gun aside. Snider's bullet struck him squarely over the heart, killing him instantly. He sprawled upon his face, tumbling against Snider's feet and throwing him momentarily off balance.
In that fleeting moment Les Davids drew and shot. Snider dropped in his tracks, his gun exploding harmlessly as he fell. Davids strode to him, placed the muzzle of his gun to the head of the fallen gunman, and shot him twice. Craig shuddered and poked the muzzle of his gun through the screen of brush, but Robins restrained him.
“Don't shoot!” he cautioned in a hoarse whisper. “He needs it, but that won't help us an awful lot. Let's wait and see what he does next.”
Craig subsided, though he muttered savagely. Plainly, he did not particularly admire the actions of Mr. Davids. The latter did not bother to reload his revolver, but shoved it in his holster and bent over the two lifeless bodies. He hooked his fingers into their collars and dragged them into the shack, disappearing from sight in the inner darkness.
“Can yuh imagine that?” breathed Craig. “Pays no more attention to his own brother than he would to a dead greaser! And drags him around as if he was only a bag of spuds! What a tender-hearted gent he turned out to be!”
“Sh-h!” cautioned Robbins. “Here he comes back. Wonder what he's gonna do?”
They were not long in discovering an answer to this question. Davids went directly to the burst package, a triumphant, satisfied smile on his face, and knelt beside it. First he picked up the scattered coins, which glinted in the late morning sun, and poured them back in the package. Then, getting up, he went to the corral gate, opened it, and led the pinto out. Stuffing the money into a pair of saddle bags, he mounted and caught the horses belonging to Snider and his brother, and which had run a few yards away when the shooting started.
These he drove into the corral. Locking the gate, he looked once toward the shack and turned his horse southward. Immediately Robbins and Craig covered him with their rifles, having no intention whatever of letting him escape. They had no necessity of pulling their triggers, however, for as if thinking better of something, Davids wheeled his mount and went back to the cabin.
Dismounting at the door, he went inside and returned a moment later with two small and very heavy canvas sacks, which he put into the saddle bags. He made two more trips, each time carrying two heavy sacks. Robbins and Craig watched him as he put the last of them into the bags.
“Goin' to hide the loot in a new place,” whispered Robbins. “Must be the plunder from the Del Rio bank. If we can get it and return it to Miner, Crimins won't lose so much after all. Might mean he'll save the ranch.”
“Yeah, it might,” Craig agreed. “Let's go and—”
From the edge of the thicket not twenty yards to the right a rifle crashed. The two C Bar men stared fascinated as Davids stiffened and whirled about, clawing at the butt of his gun. Wham! The rifle thundered again, creating countless echoes that reverberated back and forth across the tiny basin. Davids stopped clawing at his holster. His knees sagged; his head dropped, and he pitched forward and lay still.
“Can you beat it?” whispered Robbins. “Man, we've sure got a grand-stand seat to a whale of a show. This is gettin' plumb excitin'!”
[End of chapter]
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