Above the Law - Max Brand - ebook

Above the Law ebook

Max Brand



Frederick Schiller Faust (1892-1944) was an American author best known for his thoughtful Westerns under the pen name Max Brand. Prolific in many genres, he wrote historical novels, detective mysteries, pulp fiction stories and many more. In his first western tale, „Above the Law”... Max Brand, villain, the bandit Black Jim, has the books of Scott, Shakespeare, Poe, Byron, Malory at his bunk. Poetic passages are found in practically every Max story. Black Jim loses his heart when he discovers love and a new identity in the Old West. Brand’s first western story is a timeless tale of new identity and love in the Old West.

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Chapter I. Two Thousand Dollars’ Reward

Chapter II. Hands Up!

Chapter III. The Mixed Cast

Chapter IV. Black Jim

Chapter V. The Stage Man

Chapter VI. Greek Meets Greek

Chapter VII. Jerry Takes Lessons

Chapter VIII. The Sign of the Beast

Chapter IX. Jerry Decides

Chapter X. A Straight Game with a Fixed Deck

Chapter XI. Back to the Law


HER eyes were like the sky on a summer night, a color to be dreamed of but never reproduced. From the golden hair to the delicate hands which cupped her chin a flower-like loveliness kept her aloof from her surroundings, like a rare pearl set in base metal. Her companion, young and darkly handsome, crumpled in a hand, scarcely less white than hers, the check which the waiter had left. In the mean time he gazed with some concern at his companion. Her lips stirred; she sighed.

“Two dollars for ham,” she murmured. “Can you beat it, Freddie?”

“He sort of sagged when we slipped him the order,” answered the dark and distinguished youth. “I guess the hens are only making one-night stands in this country.”

“They’ve got an audience, anyway,” she returned, “and that’s more than we could draw!”

She opened her purse and passed two bills to him under the table.

“Why the camouflage?” he asked, as he took the money.

“Freddie,” she said, “run your glass eye over the men in this joint. If they see you pay for the eats with my money, they’d take you for a skirt in disguise.”

A light twinkled for an instant far back in her eyes.

“Take me for a skirt?” said Frederick Montgomery, in his most austere manner. “Say, cutie, lay off on the rough stuff and get human. The trouble with you, La Belle Geraldine, is that you forget your real name is Annie Kerrigan.”

Her lazy smile caressed him.

“Freddie,” she purred, “you do your dignity bit, the way Charlie Chaplin would do Hamlet.”

Mr. Montgomery scowled upon her, but the dollar bills in the palm of his hand changed the trend of his thoughts at once.

“Think of it, Jerry,” he groaned, “if we hadn’t listened to that piker Delaney, we’d be doing small big-time over the R. and W.!”

“Take it easy, deary,” answered La Belle Geraldine, “I’ve still got a hundred iron men; but that isn’t enough to take both of us to civilization.”

Montgomery cleared his throat, frowned, and raised his head like a patriot making a death-speech in the third act.

“Geraldine,” he said solemnly, “it ain’t right for me to sponge on you now. You take the money. It’ll get you back to Broadway. As for me–I–I–can go to work in one of the mines with these ruffians!”

La Belle Geraldine chuckled.

“You couldn’t do it without make-up, Freddie. And besides, think of spoiling those hands with a pick-handle!”

Mr. Montgomery regarded his tender palms with a rather sad complacency.

“There’s no other way out, Jerry. Besides, I can, I can–”

His voice trailed away drearily, and La Belle Geraldine regarded him with the familiar twinkle far back in her eyes.

“You’re a born hero, Freddie–on the stage. But we’re minus electric lights out here, and the play’s no good.”

“We’re minus everything,” declared Freddie with heat, overlooking the latter part of her speech. “This joint hasn’t even got a newspaper in it, unless you call this rag one!”

He pulled out a crumpled paper, a single sheet poorly printed on both sides. Geraldine took it and regarded it with languid interest.

“The funny thing,” she muttered, as she read, “is that I sort of like this rube gang out here, Freddie.”

“Like them?” snorted her companion, as he shook down his cuffs and tightened his necktie. “Say, Jerry, you’re talking in your sleep. Wake up and get next to yourself! Pipe the guy in the corner piling fried potatoes on his knife with a chunk of bread.”

She turned her head.

“Kind of neat action, all right,” she said critically. “That takes real courage, Freddie. If his hand slipped, he’d cut his throat. Don’t be so sore on them. As parlor snakes, they aren’t in your class, but don’t spend all your time looking at the stage set. Watch the show and forget the background, Freddie. These boys may eat with knives and get a little too familiar with their revolvers, but they strike me as being a hundred percent men.”

“You always were a nut, Jerry,” yawned Montgomery. “For my part, give me the still small voice, but not the wilderness. I can see all the rough nature I want in the Central Park Zoo.”

He pushed back his chair.

“Wait a minute, Freddie. Hold the curtain while I play the overture. I’ve got an idea. Listen to this!”

She spread out the Snider Gulch Clarion and read:

“Attention, men of Snider Gulch, it’s up to us! The citizens of Three Rivers have organized to rid the mountains of Black Jim. Prominent miners of that town have placed two thousand dollars on deposit, and offered it for the capture of the bandit, dead or alive. Men, is Snider Gulch going to be left behind by a jerk-water shanty village like Three Rivers? No! Let’s get together. If Three Rivers can offer two thousand dollars for the capture of Black Jim, Snider Gulch can offer three thousand easy. We’ve got to show Three Rivers that we’re on the map!”

“How’s that for a line of talk, Freddie?”

“What’s the point?” he queried. “What do you get out of that monologue?”

“Wait a minute, the drums are still going out in the orchestra and your cue hasn’t come yet; but before I get through I’m going to ring up the curtain on a three-act melodrama that’ll fill the house and give the box office insomnia.”

She went on with the reading.

“We can’t expect to land Black Jim in a hurry. The reward money will probably get covered with cobwebs before it’s claimed. The men who get it will have their hands full, that’s certain. If they can even find his hiding-place, they will be doing their share of work.

“There are a number of theories about the way he works. Some people think that he lives either in Snider Gulch or Three Rivers and does his hold-ups on the side. No man has ever seen his face because of the black mask he wears over his eyes. All we know is that his hair is black and that he always rides a roan horse. But that ought to be enough to identify him.

“Some hold that he hides in some gulch with a lot of other outlaws. They don’t think he leads a gang, because he always works alone, but they believe that other gunmen have found his hiding-place and are living near him. If that is the case, and Black Jim can be found in his home, we will clean out the bandits who have given our town a black name.

“If Black Jim is caught, he will surely hang. He hasn’t killed anyone yet, but he’s wounded nine or ten, and if he’s ever pressed hard, there’s sure to be a lot of bloodshed. However, it’s up to the brave men of Snider Gulch to take the chance. If they get him they’ll probably get the rest of the gun-fighters who have been sticking up stages (which is Black Jim’s specialty), and robbing and killing lone miners and prospectors, which is the long suit of the rest of the crowd.

“In conclusion, all we have to say is that the men who gets the money for Black Jim’s capture will earn it, and our respect along with it.”

She dropped the paper.

“Now do you see, Freddie?”

“I’m no psychic wonder, Jerry,” he answered with some irritation. “How can I tell what act you’re thinking of? Wait a minute!”

He gaped at her with sudden astonishment.

“Say, Jerry,” he growled, “have you got a hunch that I’m going to go out and catch this man-eating Black Jim?”

She broke into musical laughter.

“Freddie,” she said, when she could speak again. “I’d as soon send you to capture the bandit as I’d send a baby with a paper knife to capture a machine gun. No, deary, I know you want to get out of here, but I don’t want you to start east in a coffin. It costs too much!”

“Slip it to me easy, Jerry,” he said, “or I’ll get peeved.”

“Don’t make me nervous,” she mocked. “I don’t ask you to do anything rough except to put on clothes like the ones these fellows around here are wearing–heavy boots, overalls, broad-brimmed hat, red bandanna around the neck.”

He stared at her without comprehension.

“Do you think they’ll pay to see me in an outfit like that?”

“They ought to, and it’s my idea to make them. It’s a nice little bit for us both, Freddie. First act starts like this. Stage set: A western mining town, Three Rivers. Enter the lead–a girl, stunning blonde, wears corduroy walking skirt.”

Montgomery grinned but still looked baffled.

“You hate yourself all right,” he said, “but lead on the action.”

“Nobody knows why the girl is there, and nobody cares, because they don’t ask questions in a mining town.”

“Not even about the theater,” groaned Montgomery.

“Shut up, Freddie,” cut in La Belle Geraldine, “you spoil the scene with your monologue stunts. I say, the swell blonde appears and buys a seat on the stage which starts that afternoon, running towards Truckee. She kids the driver along a little and he lets her sit on the seat beside him. As soon as she gets planted there she begins to talk–let me see–yes, she begins to hand out a swift line of chatter about what she can do with a revolver. Then she shows him a little nickel-plated revolver which she carries with her. He asks her to show off her skill, but she says ‘Nothing stirring, Oscar.’ Finally they go around a curve and out rides a masked bandit on a roan horse. Everybody on the stage holds up their arms as soon as he comes out with his gun leveled.”

“How do you know they would?” said Montgomery.

“Because they always do,” answered Geraldine. “Nobody thinks of making a fight when a masked man on a roan horse appears, because they know it’s Black Jim, who can shoot the core out of an apple at five hundred yards, or something like that. Well, they all hold up their hands except the girl, who raises her revolver and fires, and though she used a blank cartridge the gun jumps out of the grip of the bandit as if a bullet hit it. Then he holds up his hands and everybody in the stage cheers, and the girl takes the bandit prisoner. The stage turns around and carries them back to Three Rivers.

“The people of the town come to look at Black Jim–”

“And they see I’m not the guy they want. Then the game’s blown.”

“Not a hope,” said Jerry. “They don’t know anything about this man-killer except the color of his horse. They’ll take you for granted.”

“Sure,” groaned Montgomery, “and hang me to the nearest tree, what?”

“Take it easy, Freddie. There’s some law around here. You just keep your face shut after they take you. They’ll wait to try you the next day, anyway. That’ll give me time to cash in the reward. I’ll be fifty miles east before they get wise. The next morning when they come in to stick a rope on your neck, you simply light a cigarette and tell them it’s all a mistake. Let ‘em go to Snider Gulch to the hotel and they can find a hundred people to recognize you as a ham actor. Tell them you were merely trying a little act of your own when you stuck up the stage, and that your partner flashed the gun from the driver’s seat. Say, kid, the people of Three Rivers will see the laugh is on them, and they’ll buy you a ticket to Denver just to get rid of you. I’ll meet you there, and then we’ll trot on to Broadway, savvy? It’s a dream!”

“A nightmare,” growled Montgomery, though light entered his face; “but still–”


“Jerry, I begin to think it wouldn’t be such a hard thing to get away with this! But what if you couldn’t get me out of the town? What if they started to lynch me without waiting for the law?”

“That’s easy,” smiled Geraldine. “Then I step out and tell them it’s simply one grand joke. All we would have to be sorry about is the money we spent on your horse and clothes and gun. It’s a chance, Freddie, but it’s a chance that’s worth taking. Two thousand dollars reward!”

Montgomery’s eyes hardened.

“Jerry,” he whispered, “every stage that leaves Three Rivers has a lot of pure gold in the boot. Why not play the bandit part legitimate and grab the gold? It’s a lot simpler, and there’s no more risk.”

Geraldine studied him curiously.

“You’ve got the makings of a fine crook, Freddie. It’s in your eye now.”

He colored and glanced away.

“It’s no go, deary. If we cheat these miners with my little game, at least we know that the money comes only from the rich birds who can afford to put up a reward. But if we grab the cash in the boot, how can we tell we aren’t taking the bread and jam out of the mouth of some pick-swinger with a family to support?”

She finished with a smile, but there was a suggestion of hardness in her voice.

“Jerry,” he answered, “you’re certainly fast in the bean. I’d go a ten-spot to a Canadian dime that you could make up with one hand and darn stockings with the other. We’ll do it your way if you insist. It’ll be a great show,”

“Right you are, Freddie. You’ve got the face for the act.”

They had to spread a hundred dollars over a horse, a revolver, and Montgomery’s clothes. He spent most of the day shopping and at night came home with the necessary roan, a tall animal which was cheapened by bad ring-bones. His clothes; except the hat and boots, were very inexpensive, and he managed to buy a secondhand revolver for six dollars.

While he made these purchases, La Belle Geraldine, now registered at the “hotel” as Annie Kerrigan, opened a conversation with the girl who worked in the store. She proved diffident at first, with an envious eye upon Jerry’s hat with its jaunty feather curled along the side; but in the end La Belle’s smile thawed the cold.

“She handed me the frosty eye,” reported Jerry to Montgomery that evening, “until I put her wise on some millinery stunts. After that it was easy. She told me all she knew about Black Jim, and a lot more. People say he’s a big chap–so are you, Freddie. His complexion is dark–so is yours. One queer thing is that he has never killed any one. The paper said that and the girl said it, too. It seems he’s a big-time guy with a gun, and when he shoots he can pick a man in the arm or the leg, just as he pleases. I don’t suppose you can hit a house at ten yards, Freddie, but it’s a cinch they aren’t going to try you out with a revolver–not as long as they have a hunch you’re Black Jim.”

That night Montgomery learned all that could be told about the stage route and the time it left Three Rivers. By dawn of the next day he and Jerry were on the road toward Three Rivers by different routes.

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