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Altus Press • 2018
© 2018 Steeger Properties, LLC, under license to Altus Press
“The Sheriff of Tonto Town” originally appeared in the September 14, 21, 28, October 5, 12, and 19, 1935 issues of Argosy magazine (Vol. 258, No. 4–Vol. 259, No. 3). Copyright © 1935 by The Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright renewed © 1962 and assigned to Steeger Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.
“Suspected by Henry” originally appeared in the December 7, 1935 issue of Argosy magazine (Vol. 260, No. 4). Copyright © 1935 by The Frank A. Munsey Company. Copyright renewed © 1963 and assigned to Steeger Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Special Thanks to Gerd Pircher
“DOC” SARGENT’S darkly handsome face was flushed with anger as he stood in the doorway of the sheriff’s office, glowering at Henry Harrison Conroy, the sheriff, who sat at his desk, his spurred boots against the top edge, his knees almost touching his chin.
“It wasn’t any of your damn business anyway,” declared Doc Sargent hotly. “You can’t do things like that, Conroy.”
Doc Sargent was the most immaculate gambler in the State, with his perfectly tailored black suits, hand-made shirts, hand-made shoes. He was also very clever, with his long, flexible fingers.
Henry Harrison Conroy had spent all his life, except the last few months, on the vaudeville stage, only leaving the profession when his last contract had been canceled, and an uncle had died, leaving him the J Bar C ranch in Wild Horse Valley.
Henry had made the best of it. He didn’t believe in inspecting the dental work of gift horses.
Henry’s nose was known from one end of the country to the other; and it was still as large and as red as ever. His face was moon-like, his head was almost bald, his eyes squinty, and his body was of tub-like proportions.
He never asked for the office of sheriff.
As a joke, his name was proposed for nomination; and he was elected—by one vote.
“I can’t do things like what?” queried Henry.
“Judge” Van Treece, tilted against the wall in a much whittled chair, chuckled softly. Judge was sixty years of age, tall and gaunt, being six feet four inches tall, with a long, lean face and pouchy eyes. Whisky had driven Judge from practicing law. When the voters of Wild Horse Valley played a joke upon themselves by electing Henry sheriff, Henry decided to give them additional laughs; so he appointed Judge as his deputy, and made Oscar Johnson the jailer. Just now Oscar was sitting on the cot, apparently paying no attention to the conversation. Oscar had the body of a Hercules, faded blond hair, a button-like nose, and small blue eyes.
DOC SARGENT’S eyes shifted to Judge, who had chuckled.
“Do you see anything funny in this, Van Treece?” he asked.
“It has its element of humor,” admitted Judge.
“Well, I don’t see it,” said Doc coldly.
“I am just wondering if you are expecting me to break down and cry?” said Henry slowly. “The fact still remains that the young man was being fleeced, Mr. Sargent. He sold that property for the sum of four thousand dollars. That is a mighty lot of money for a young cowboy to have.
“You happened to know that Mr. West paid him that much money. I happen to know that Mr. West now owns the Tonto Saloon. The idea was, I believe, to separate that young cowboy from his four thousand as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Well, I believe you have at least half of it, Mr. Sargent. Let well enough alone.”
“That’s all right,” said the dapper gambler easily. “But you openly accused me of crooked dealing.”
“Rather,” corrected Henry, “I congratulated you on your perfect technique in palming cards. For many years, in vaudeville, I have watched the cleverest sleight-of-hand performers—magicians, if you please—and none of them—”
“What the hell has that got to do with the case?” demanded the gambler. “I say that I dealt a square game. Was it my fault if that fool cowboy overplayed his cards?”
“Nor the cards,” added Henry. “They were good hands, I’ll admit. In fact, I have never seen three aces beat three kings as many times. Queerly enough, you always drew to one pair, while the young cowboy had his set of threes before the draw. But”—Henry squinted close at the gambler—“that was all right, until I saw how you got that third ace.”
“You lie, if you say—”
Wham! The little office shook from the concussion of a forty-five revolver, and a section of the door frame, adjacent to the head of Doc Sargent, splintered off and went flying into the street.
Henry went over backwards, struck the wall and slid slowly to the floor, feet in the air, while Doc Sargent seemed to fade out, so swiftly did he leave the immediate vicinity of the office. Henry grunted, turned over to his hands and knees, and slowly got to his feet. His overwrought leather belt had busted, and he made a frantic grab to hold up his overalls, as he glared at Oscar Johnson.
Judge sat there, as one petrified, merely his eyes shifting.
“You—you fool Swede!” gasped Henry. “I—I’ve busted my belt!”
“Yah, su-ure,” agreed Oscar blandly.
“In the name of everything, what happened?” gasped Judge.
“Das ha’ar gon,” replied Oscar, “von’t stay cocked.”
Henry blinked at the heavy revolver in Oscar’s big hand. He looked at the splintered doorway and shuddered.
“You say that gun won’t stay cocked?” queried Judge. “Wh-why, didn’t you know it wouldn’t? What were you—”
“Please, Judge,” interrupted Henry, “let me handle it. Oscar, why won’t that gun stay cocked?”
“Va’l”—Oscar’s blue eyes looked innocently at Henry—“mebbe it vars because Ay pulled de trigger, Henry.”
Henry tugged up his overalls, let loose with one hand, and rubbed his nose carefully.
“Very few of them will stay cocked, under those circumstances,” he said slowly. “But, Oscar, you might have killed that man! Don’t you realize—oh, no, of course you don’t; you wouldn’t.”
Henry shrugged his shoulders and looked at his upset chair.
“That Terrible Swede is going to kill somebody—some time,” said Judge wearily.
“Ay hope to ta’l you,” agreed Oscar.
HENRY WALKED over to the doorway and looked out at the street. Doc Sargent was nowhere in sight. In less than sixty days Tonto City had changed from a sleepy little cow-town to a boom mining town of over five thousand. The magic lure of a big gold strike was bringing in more people every day.
“You can’t stand there forever, holding up your pants, Henry,” said Judge.
Henry turned and came back to his desk.
“Forever is a long time, Judge,” he said sadly. He picked up his cartridge belt and buckled it securely around the top of his overalls. He heaved a deep sigh and sat on a corner of his desk.
“At times I weary of Tonto City,” he said. “I want the old town again, Judge. I want to sit down in the shade and let the rest of the world pass by. Look at it now. Wild-eyed, hard-faced men, painted women. Garish-fronted buildings, roaring honkytonks; a city of tent houses, shuddering to the jar of dynamite blasts. I hate it, sir.”
“So do I,” nodded Judge. “But, sir, our combined hates of the present condition of Tonto City only serve to make us both look a little older. If you don’t take that gun away from Oscar, and keep it away from him, I am going to have a complete physical breakdown.”
“Ay bought das ha’r gon,” stated Oscar belligerently, “and it belongs to me. Das ha’r town is gettin’ so damn tough, Ay must have a gon—yust like any yailer.”
“I suppose he is right,” sighed Henry. “After all, Judge, if you are fated to die by the gun, what difference who fires it?”
“I don’t want to die accidentally,” said Judge.
“Life is an accident—why not death?” queried Henry.
“Ay am no accident,” denied Oscar.
“You, my dear Oscar, were a mistake,” smiled Henry.
“Yah, su-ure,” agreed Oscar blandly. He shoved the big gun inside the waistband of his overalls and sauntered out.
“A Swedish accident, goin’ out to happen,” sighed Henry.
“With a gun, he is positively a menace to all of Arizona,” declared Judge. “He will go across the street, swagger for an hour in the Tonto Saloon, ogling all the girls, and come back bursting with egotism. I imagine he’ll be very popular over there, since he nearly murdered Doc Sargent.”
“I suppose,” sighed Henry.
“And another thing, Henry. You are new to this country. I’ve been here ever since the Huachuca Mountains were holes in the ground. That is, they were still slight depressions when I arrived. I know the pulse of the West. Now, in that little matter—”
“Check that with the rest of the scenery,” interrupted Henry. “For the tenth time, you are going to explain to me that I am not supposed to act as a dry-nurse to embryo gamblers. That my business is to be the sheriff, acting only in cases of law-breakage. That I must ignore crooked dealing, fixed roulette wheels, and loaded dice. All this must I do, in order that the world may stay bright to my vision and my body remain perpendicular.”
“Quite right,” nodded Judge. “Minding one’s own business is the best life insurance in this country, sir. I have seen many a test case. Let Jack West and his hired help operate the Tonto. I’m sure they will not interfere in your operating the sheriff’s office.”
“In other words,” smiled Henry, “they will promise not to make any arrests as long as I refrain from running gambling games, selling liquor, or operating a honkytonk in the county jail.”
“Something like that,” agreed Judge.
“And you,” said Henry accusingly, “a man of your age, steeped in the lore of Blackstone, a gentleman in spite of an uncontrollable thirst, can sit there and calmly explain to me just why I should shut my eyes to crooked practices. My dear Judge, I am afraid you were educated in law—not in justice.”
“It is merely common practice to mind one’s own business, Henry. The world laughs at a crusader.”
“And so we talk in circles, Judge,” smiled Henry. “Talking, even in circles, is a dry occupation. Were I to mention a drink—”
JUDGE WAS already out of his chair, and arm in arm they went to the Tonto Saloon, which now bore the gaudy sign:
GAMBLING PALACE AND PLACE OF ENTERTAINMENT
Miners, just off shift, with the muck of the mines on their clothes, rubbed elbows with seedy-looking prospectors, cowboys, speculators, and the general following of a new gold strike.
Where the Tonto Saloon had been one low-ceilinged room, it was now a big three-room establishment, each room far larger than the original cow-town saloon.
Jack West owned it now, and Jack West also owned the richest mines in the district. Although few men in Wild Horse Valley had ever seen Jack West, his operations were well known. Twenty years ago he had discovered and sold the Three Partners mine for over a million. This was in the Maricopa district, two hundred miles from Tonto City. Stories had been told in which West and a partner, in a quarrel which almost ended fatally, played one hand of poker for ownership of the Three Partners—and West won.
“To you, sir,” said Henry Harrison Conroy.
“And to you, sir,” replied Judge Van Treece.
Drinking, with them, was a ritual; and always amusing to the rough element of Tonto City. Standing near them was an oldish man, poorly dressed, and with a terribly scarred face. It was really one continuous scar, which began high up on his forehead above his left eye, extended down the bridge of his nose, where it went at a right angle, cutting deep into his right cheek, and then looped down around his mouth, like an inverted question mark. His eyes were almost concealed under his beetling brows.
“It is not my custom,” remarked Judge, “to belittle whisky, no matter how humble its origin, but that,” pointing at the bottle, “is hardly fit for human consumption.”
“Your trouble,” smiled the bartender, “is the fact that you have been drinking prune whisky. The liquor in that bottle is pure stuff.”
“Not rye—just stuff,” nodded Henry. “I detest that word ‘stuff.’ It reeks of pillows, mattresses. Judge, will you have another—er—stuff?”
“Not from that same bottle, Henry. Have you something in bonded liquor?”
A commotion outside caused them to step back to the doorway, where a crowd had gathered. Danny Regan and Slim Pickins, the foreman and a cowboy from Henry’s J Bar C ranch, were in the ranch buckboard, and several men were crowded around the rear of the equipage, where a man was stretched out, his feet hanging over the rear.
“Is Dr. Bogart there—in the saloon?” asked Danny.
“Here he comes now,” called a voice.
Dr. Bogart was hurrying across the street. He took one look at the injured man, and ordered Danny to take him down to the house where Dr. Bogart lived, which he also used as an office. Danny whirled the team around and drove swiftly away.
“Dynamite accident,” said one of the men. “Badly busted, I reckon.”
THE CROWD separated, going about their own business. Henry saw the scar-faced man, standing there on the sidewalk, looking down the street where the buckboard had disappeared around a corner. In all his life Henry Harrison Conroy had never seen such hate depicted on a human countenance as was on the face of this scarred person.
Henry looked curiously at Judge, who had also noted it. Finally the scar-faced man went slowly across the street.
“Danny will come back to the office, Judge,” said Henry. “We’ll get the details of this accident.”
They walked back and sat down in the office.
“You noticed the scar-faced man, Henry?” queried Judge.
Henry nodded slowly.
“I did, Judge; and if the devil has a worse expression, I hope the preachers are mistaken about damnation. No doubt, some of it was due to that scar.”
“Undoubtedly,” agreed Judge. “But that scar flamed scarlet, while the rest of his face turned gray. He saw the man in the buckboard. I saw him take a look, and then he drew back.”
Danny and Slim came back in a few minutes and tied their horses in front of the office.
“We found him beside the road, a mile this side of the ranch,” explained Danny. “He’d fallen off his old horse. Couldn’t talk much, but managed to tell us that a delayed blast went off on him. He got on his horse and headed for a doctor, but fainted from loss of blood. Henry, the poor devil is all busted to hell.”
“That’s certainly hard luck,” said Henry. “Who is he, Danny?”
“We never asked him. It was mighty hard for him to talk.”
“I was scared to help him pack into the house—scared he’d fall to pieces,” said Slim. “He kept mumblin’ somethin’ about strikin’ it rich.”
“That’s right,” nodded Danny. “He kept sayin’ somethin’ about jewelry ore. What’s that?”
“A common expression among miners and prospectors,” said Judge. “It refers to very rich stuff—sparkling with gold, or silver.”
“Perhaps,” said Henry sadly, “he has found the end of the rainbow; and in his delirium he sees the pots of gold, or a dream-vein, studded with the stuff he gave up his life to find.”
“Frijole Bill sent in a jug,” said Slim. “I’ll get it.”
Frijole Bill Cullison, the little cook at the J Bar C, spent much of his spare time distilling prune-juice, of which he sent a generous share to the sheriff’s office staff.
It was never more than a few days old, but its kick was tremendous. Oscar Johnson preferred it to any other beverage.
“WE MUST hide this from Oscar,” said Judge. “Of such stuff is total wreckage manufactured. And don’t forget, Henry—Oscar has a gun which won’t stay cocked.”
“My gosh, you didn’t give the Terrible Swede a gun, didja?” exclaimed Danny.
“No; he bought it for himself,” replied Henry.
“And that Swede is as lethal as a quart of nitro-glycerine,” sighed Judge. “I’m afraid to sneeze in his presence.”
“Why don’t you fire him, Henry?” asked Danny. “Send him back to the ranch, where he can’t do worse than to break the neck of a horse or two. Hire a good jailer.”
“Oscar rises or falls with the office,” replied Henry.
“It is no use, Danny,” sighed Judge. “Henry won’t listen to reason.”
“Reason!” snorted Henry. “If I did, I’d fire all three of us. God knows the job is dreary enough, without taking away my greatest source of amusement. You underestimate Oscar. Oh, I am perfectly aware that he does everything wrong. But I have a system. I tell him to do something wrong, and he will invariably do it right.”
“But,” reminded Judge, “you have managed to keep guns out of his hands, Henry. If he gets a dozen drinks under his belt, he will take a shot at everyone on the street.”
“That isn’t possible, Judge.”
“Why isn’t it possible?”
“Because I only let him have five cartridges.”
“I reckon we better go back to the ranch, before Oscar starts usin’ up his allowance,” said Danny seriously. “And please keep him away from Harper’s Millinery Store, Henry,” added Danny. “The last time Oscar got drunk he went over there and tried on six hats. Leila and her mother tried to get him to quit it, but he wouldn’t budge. He said, ‘Ay am tryin’ to find purty hat for Yosephine. You see, any hat dat looks goot on me will be yust right for Yosephine.’ ”
“Did he buy one?” asked Judge.
“Can yuh imagine Oscar lookin’ good in a woman’s hat?”
“Or Josephine?” added Henry. “I could only imagine her, standing on the prow of a Viking ship, her yellow locks flailing in the wind. To my mind, she is wasted, making beds in the Tonto Hotel, or poking the muzzle of an insect gun into the folds of a mattress. She is a fit mate for a fighting Swede.”
“And she’ll get one, too—if she ever quits throwing chairs and crockery at Oscar,” chuckled Judge. “The last time, she missed Oscar and crippled a traveling salesman. It cost the hotel ten dollars to square the fight. They tried to make Oscar pay the ten—for dodging—but he asked me for legal assistance, and I responded.”
“I witnessed that scene,” remarked Henry thoughtfully. “As a matter of fact, I do not believe she ever threw that chair at Oscar. That traveling salesman made a smart remark to Josephine as he came into the dining room. It requires considerable time for Josephine to digest any remark. She was very thoughtful for a time. At least time for the salesman to have forgotten her existence. Oscar merely happened to be standing in the line of fire.
“In the parlance of horseshoe pitching, it was a perfect ringer. The salesman staggered out of the dining room, with the back of the chair suspended around his neck, the seat of it dangling in front of him, and he was beating time on it with his fists, like a snare-drummer.”
The two cowboys chuckled at Henry’s description.
“We’ll be going back now,” said Danny. “Did that feller Werner come in to see yuh yet, Henry?”
“Not yet, Danny. Who is Werner?”
“He’s that new butcher. He’s tryin’ to contract with several of the mines. He was goin’ to talk prices with you. We might sell a lot of beef to him.”
“I’ll be looking for him, Danny.”
AFTER THE two cowboys drove away, Judge opened the jug, and they each took a big drink.
“By gad, sir!” exploded Judge, half strangled, “that is liquor! It warms the cockles of one’s heart.”
Henry squinted thoughtfully, his lips puckered.
“Warms the cockles of one’s heart, eh? It may warm the cockles of your heart, Judge; but that one drink cauterized a corn on my left foot. It is the compound tincture of red-hot pokers. Whew!”
Again they bowed to each other and drank again.
“Not bad at all, sir,” admitted Henry. “It is like getting your head chopped off—it only hurts the first time.”
“A grand boy, that Danny Regan,” said Judge, apropos of nothing.
Henry nodded solemnly, his eyes squinted close, as he considered Judge for several moments.
“Aye, a grand boy,” admitted Henry. “Judge, old friend, I have something to impart to you; something I have told no one as yet.”
“Except to Mrs. Harper,” corrected Judge soberly.
“Well, well!” Henry’s solemn face became wreathed with smiles. “You guessed it, Judge?”
“Not exactly, Henry. I knew it was either an upset physical condition—or love. Your own remark settled the question. When is it to be?”
“You won’t mention it to anyone, Judge?”
“I never betray a trust, sir.”
“Well,” smiled Henry, “we haven’t set a date. We haven’t even told Leila and Danny; but we hope to make it a double marriage.”
“Wonderful! Henry, she is an estimable woman; I congratulate you.”
“Thank you, Judge—thank you. I—I feel so damn foolish.”
“Then you look exactly as you feel. Let us have a drink. Hold out your cup. Good. Well, sir—to an old fool.”
“To you, Judge.”
“I’VE WAITED twenty long years to kill you, Parke Neal; and now I find yuh dyin’. Damn yore soul, it ain’t square. But you never did play square with me. Six hours late—after twenty years.”
The scar-faced man’s voice broke huskily, his gnarled fingers clutching his knees. In the dim lamplight that terrible scar looked like a fresh wound. The dying man, bearded and unkempt, his hands twisted in the clean sheet, blinked at the ceiling.
“I’ll take yore word for who yuh say yuh are,” he whispered hoarsely. “Things is kinda blurred. But you ain’t Tom Silver. He had black hair, a handsome face. Wild Tom Silver. Where yuh been, Tom?”
“In the penitentiary, damn yuh. I follered yuh to Yuma—to kill yuh. I saw where yuh registered for a room; and I went to that room in the dark—and shot yuh full of holes. But I killed the wrong man, damn yuh. I killed the man in room twenty-eight—and you was in twenty-three.”
The dying man closed his eyes for several moments, his brow knitted.
“I ’member,” he whispered. “A man named Condon. But they said a man named—it wasn’t Silver—”
“I never gave my right name. I didn’t want anybody to know. Oh, I knew you was in love with my wife, Neal. I seen you give her money. I took it away from her and threw it in the street. Jack West knew I was goin’ to kill you.”
“You fool,” whispered the dying man. “Jack West sent me to her, with the money. I never tried to steal yore wife. It was dog-cat-dog, after we found the Three Partners mine. West wanted it all—and mebbe I did, too. After you disappeared, me and West fought. He beat me out of my share, Tom; robbed me with crooked cards. But he’s rich now, Tom. He owns most of the mines in this valley—owns everythin’.”
“What about—the woman?” asked Silver. “Don’t lie, Neal. There was to be a baby—soon. Don’t lie to me. Where’s the woman and the baby?”
Tom Silver reached over quickly and lifted Neal’s head and shoulders, but it was too late. The door opened, and Dr. Bogart came in.
“He jist died, Doc,” said Silver.
The doctor made an examination, and drew the sheet over the dead man’s face.
“I knew it was only a matter of a short time,” he said. “He was badly broken—poor devil. And just when he had made his strike.”
Silver looked quickly at the doctor. “Strike?” he said curiously.
“So he said. Perhaps it was an hallucination, caused by his accident. He said it would be worth millions; bigger than the Three Partners.”
The doctor leaned over the bed and looked all around. “He wanted pencil and paper,” he said. “Seemed to want to write something.”
The oil lamp guttered smokily, and the doctor turned to the table. “I’ll fill the lamp,” he said, and went out.
Tom Silver stepped over to the bedside, pawing swiftly at the bedding. In the folds of a blanket he found two sheets of paper and a pencil. One sheet contained writing, but Tom Silver did not stop to read it. Tucking it in a pocket, he replaced the pencil and unused paper.
THE DOCTOR refilled the lamp, and found the paper and pencil. “Too badly injured to write,” he remarked. “I—don’t see how he lived as long as he did. But these old prospectors—”
Someone was knocking on the door.
“Come in,” called the doctor.
The door swung open and a woman stepped inside.
She was tall and slender, shimmering with silk. The yellow lamplight glistened on the gold of her hair as she came forward. She was beautiful, in spite of her make-up. She glanced at the sheeted figure on the bed and shook her head.
“Dead?” she said throatily.
“He died a few minutes ago,” replied the doctor.
The woman nodded slowly.
“I didn’t know about it until a short time ago,” she said.
“You knew him?” queried the doctor.
“I staked him twice,” she said simply, turned and walked out, closing the door.
“Who is she, Doc?” asked Tom Silver.
“They call her Lola,” replied the doctor. “She’s—she sings—and deals faro for the Tonto. They say she’s hard as the devil. I don’t know about that.”
“She staked him twice,” said Tom Silver. “She—she ain’t very old, Doc.”
“Too young to be doing what she’s doing. It must be a hell of a life for a girl.”
“That’s right. Well, I’ll be goin’, Doc.”
Tom Silver walked down the slope to the main street, where he entered the Tonto Saloon. The games were running full blast. Over at the long bar, a drunken miner was trying to sing to the music of a tinkling music-box. Silver sat down against the wall, hunched to a comfortable position, and drew out the crumpled paper he had filched from the dead man. The penciled scrawl read:
I struck it rich, but Doc says I’m dying. I hereby give my mine to Lola, the faro dealer at the Tonto Saloon. It is located—
Parke Neal had died before telling where the mine was located. Perhaps his fingers had failed him, or he had forgotten. Tom Silver crumpled the paper in his hand, staring with unseeing eyes.
“Lola,” he muttered. “Lola. That’s what I called my wife.”
With a trembling hand he shoved the paper deep in his pocket. Some men at the bar were talking about Parke Neal, and Tom Silver listened.
“I tell yuh, it’s richer’n hell. They was some samples in his saddle bags. You talk about jewelry!”
“But where did he find it?” asked the bartender.
“Yuh could look for his recordin’ and see.”
“It ain’t recorded. I’ll betcha there’s been a dozen men over at the recorder’s office, tryin’ to find out.”
“Well, I’d shore like to see a vein as rich as the Three Partners. There was a mine for yuh.”
“Don’t I know it!” laughed a miner. “I’ve worked there. West sold it for over a million. Mebbe you fellers don’t know it, but there’s been bad blood between Neal and West for years. Neal was a partner of West, and Neal claimed West froze a deck of cards on him and beat him out of his share of the Three Partners.”
“It wasn’t that—not alone,” chimed in another. “They had a lot of trouble over a woman.”
“Who got the woman?” laughed the bartender.
“I dunno who got her. That’s a hell of a long time to remember about another man’s woman. Well, here’s hopin’ Parke Neal strikes it rich—wherever he’s gone.”
TOM SILVER walked out of the saloon. The stage from Scorpion Bend was just pulling into town, and Silver walked slowly up to the stage station, where a crowd usually collected to look over the new arrivals. Two huge lanterns lighted the front.
A huge, well-dressed man was on the seat with the driver. He was of middle age, but powerfully built, with a face as hard as carved granite. Tom Silver shoved in close to the front of the stage, looking square at the big man.
It was the supreme test. If Jack West could not recognize Tom Silver, no man could. For a moment the hard, gray eyes of Jack West searched the scarred face, but there was no sign of recognition. Twenty years in prison, plus a dynamite blast, had given Tom Silver a perfect disguise.
Jack West went straight to the Tonto Saloon, where he met Doc Sargent, and they went back to Sargent’s private office. They had a drink of private stock liquor, and Sargent tossed a piece of ore on the desk in front of West, who examined it critically.
“Where did that come from, Doc?” asked West curiously.
“Do you remember Parke Neal?”
West’s lips tightened for a moment.
“No need to ask me that question, Doc.”
“Neal found that ore, West. He was smashed up in a blast, tried to get to a doctor, but fell off his horse along the road. A couple of cowboys from the J Bar C found him and brought him in here. Later some fellows found his horse, and that is one of the samples he had in his saddle bags.”
“My God, Doc, that’s rich stuff! Even a small vein—Wait! What about his mine—isn’t it recorded?”
The dapper gambler shook his head slowly.
“That’s the rub, West; he never recorded it. Never left a scrap of paper to show where it’s located.”
“He’s dead, eh?”
Doc Sargent nodded. “Died less than an hour ago, over at Dr. Bogart’s house. But here’s something, West. Lola staked Neal. When she heard he was hurt, she slipped out of here and went up there. Whether she was there before he died, or not, I don’t know.”
“She staked him, eh?” mused West darkly.
“Twice, I believe.”
West looked curiously at his boss gambler.
“Why did she stake him, Doc?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe she was playing a hunch. She has plenty of witnesses to the fact that she staked Neal. Unless the claim was recorded, she hasn’t any legal right to it, of course.”
“No claim in the world,” said West coldly, as he examined the piece of ore again. “Look at the stuff, Doc! It’s rotten with gold.”
West laid the ore aside and helped himself to another drink.
“What else is new, Doc?” he asked.
“I damn near got killed today.”
“You did? How’d that happen, Doc?”
The gambler told West about the poker incident, and what happened at the sheriff’s office when he went to remonstrate with the sheriff.
“I’ve heard about that sheriff and his gang,” said West. “They told me in Scorpion Bend that Tonto City had three of the craziest peace officers in Arizona.”
Doc Sargent nodded gloomily. “And they can drink more liquor than any other three people in the State. The Swede gets wild; but the other two merely become more dignified and courteous.”
“How in hell do they manage to operate their office?”
“Just about like they did today; drive you away with a bullet.”
“Not so good,” said West. “I’ll be down here quite a lot now, Doc. I’ve got things workin’ good at Maricopa; and I’ll have more time. Maybe I’ll have a little talk with this sheriff. He’d better understand that what goes on in here is none of his business; and if he don’t keep his nose out of my business—there’ll be a new sheriff.”
IT WAS mid afternoon next day when Lola came to the Tonto. She did not go on shift until early in the evening. Men turned to stare at her, but she paid no attention. Doc Sargent was sitting alone at a table, staring moodily at an empty whisky glass on the table. He glanced up at Lola and motioned for her to sit down.
“You don’t look very happy,” she said quietly.
Doe smiled sourly and shook his head.
“Drinking whisky, too,” observed the girl. “Rather unusual, isn’t it, Doc?”
The handsome gambler laughed shortly. “I needed a bracer, Lola.”
“Maybe. Yes, I guess it’s nerves.”
“Or,” suggested Lola, “was it reaction from that shot yesterday?”
“No, it wasn’t that.”
Lola looked at him thoughtfully and a smile flashed across her eyes. “Not the little lady of the millinery—I hope.”
Doc looked curiously at her.
“You hope?” he queried.
“So that is the reason. Yes, I have seen you over there. But isn’t she engaged to marry that good-looking, red-headed cowboy? Danny Regan is the name, I believe?”
“Well, he is good-looking; clean-looking, anyway. He has a wonderful smile—and how he can ride! I don’t blame the little milliner.”
“You’re a lot of satisfaction,” grunted Doc. “You wouldn’t marry me, you know.”
“Why should I marry you, Doc?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
Doc Sargent looked narrowly at Lola for several moments.
“If you think this Danny Regan is so wonderful, why don’t you take him yourself?” he asked.
“Take him?” Lola laughed heartily. “Doc, you talk as though such things were as easy as drawing a card off the deck. Anyway, the young man is engaged to marry a very charming young lady; so your question is answered.”
“Neither of them means a thing to you, eh?”
“Certainly not. But why such a question, Doc?”
“Will you do me a favor, Lola?”
“That depends on the favor. What do you want?”
“I want that girl—Leila Harper. I want to marry her.”
“Oh, I see-e-e. I suppose you want me to go over to her and tell her what a wonderful husband you would make.”
“Hardly. I want you to make a play for Danny Regan.”
“You want me to make a play—for Danny Regan?”
“That’s it, Lola. If Leila even thought—”
“Hold it!” snapped Lola. “You’re dealing off the bottom again, Doc. I see what you mean. My advice to you is to confine your crooked dealing to the poker table.”
Doc Sargent flushed hotly.
“So you think I’m crooked, eh?” he sneered. “Listen to me! One word from me, and you’d lose your job so damn quick that—”
Lola laughed across the table at him.
“Try it, Doc,” she said easily. “And after you’ve told Jack West that I wouldn’t be a party to your crooked work—he might tell you that he pays me more salary than you are getting. Stick to cards, and leave love to—well, to people who don’t deal cards.”
BOTH OF them were so absorbed in their conversation that they had paid no attention to those about them. As Lola started to get to her feet she looked square into the eyes of Danny Regan. She and Danny had never exchanged a word. Danny rarely took a drink, and most of his gambling was confined to bunk-house games.
He was standing close behind Doc Sargent; and Lola had no idea how long he had been there.
“Thank yuh very much, ma’am,” he said to her calmly.
Doc Sargent turned quickly in his chair and looked up at Danny. Doc prided himself on his poker-face, his steel nerves.
“Have a drink, Regan,” he said calmly, and the next instant he was lifted bodily from the chair and slammed back against the table. Lola merely stepped back and said:
“Watch for that derringer—vest pocket.”
“I got it the first grab,” said Danny easily.
He whirled Sargent around, his left hand twisted in the gambler’s collar, choking him.
Sargent was helpless, his hands clawing impotently at Danny’s clenched left hand. The crowd was aware of the trouble, and came shoving in.
Danny merely gave them a sharp glance as he said, “Keep back—all of yuh; this is my job.”
Danny did not see Jack West come from the rear of the room. He was behind Danny now, and his huge left fist smashed with stunning force against the side of Danny’s head, knocking Danny almost into the crowd, where he sprawled on the floor, blood running from his face.
Doc Sargent was sprawling across the table, trying to pump air into his tortured lungs, while the crowd stood around and dumbly looked at Danny. Tom Silver was one of the crowd. West turned to the bartender and said:
“Throw some water on him and tell him to go home.”
West turned, grasped Sargent by the arm, and led him back to the office, where he closed the door.
Danny was on his feet in a few minutes, but still dazed and bleeding. The bartender mopped him off with a wet towel.
“Ye felt the weight of Jack West’s fist, me lad,” said a grizzled miner. “Th’ big felly hits ha-ard.”
“Yuh don’t need much weight to yore fist if yuh wear knucks,” said Tom Silver.
Danny looked curiously at him. “So that’s what cut me, eh?” he said.
“No fist was ever hard enough to gouge like that. Yuh better have the doctor fix yuh up.”
Danny nodded and turned away. At the doorway he stopped and looked back. Lola was near the same spot, looking at him. He smiled weakly and lifted his hat before he went out.
Back in Sargent’s office, Jack West sat down at the desk and watched the boss gambler pull himself together.
“Well, what started it?” asked West.
Doc’s voice was husky as he replied painfully, “The damn fool cowpuncher! Lola and I were quarreling a little, and he took it upon himself to interfere.”
“What were you quarreling about?”
“Oh”—Doc cleared his throat and smiled wryly—“she intimated that I was crooked. She made me mad.”
“Mad?” West laughed. “That’s like a kettle gettin’ mad because yuh called it black. Don’t quarrel with her any more. She’s bringin’ in the business—and she’s a damn good faro dealer. Any mail come here for me?”
“In that top drawer, on the left side.”
WEST JERKED the drawer out and removed several letters, which he glanced through quickly. One envelope was sealed, but not addressed.
“Is that yours?” he asked.
“Not mine,” replied Doc Sargent.
West tore the envelope open and shook out a newspaper clipping. It was faded and yellow with age, bearing the date line of a small Eastern town. West was reading swiftly, and all the color seemed to drain from his hard features. Finally he clenched his jaw tightly and looked across the table at Sargent.
“You don’t know where this came from?” he asked in a brittle voice.
“I never saw that blank envelope before,” replied Sargent.
With a hand that trembled too much, West thought he returned the clipping to the envelope. Shoving the envelope into his pocket, he got to his feet.
“I’m goin’ out to eat,” he said, and walked out, closing the door.
The gambler stepped to the door, opened it a few inches, and saw West leave the saloon. Then he turned quickly, found the clipping under the desk, and proceeded to read:
Officers are still searching for Handsome Jack West, who, it is alleged, beat his wife almost to death a week ago, and robbed her of eight thousand dollars, which she had received on a sale of her home.
Since the murderous assault by her husband, Mrs. West has been confined to a local hospital, and the doctors fear that she will be permanently crippled. Mrs. West has one child, by her former husband, Henry Woods.
Doc Sargent whistled softly to himself. There was nothing to show what year this happened, but the clipping was very old. He folded it carefully and placed it deep in his pocket. Sargent was not above blackmail; in case he needed a little extra power.
“Who in the devil ever put that in the desk?” he wondered, and helped himself to a big drink. “Anyway,” he decided, “I better put it in a safe place right now.”
Feeling very well satisfied with himself, in spite of a sore neck and a torn shirt, Doc Sargent sauntered out to the bar, where he had a drink. The bartender leaned across the bar, speaking confidentially with the boss gambler.
“Doc, who is that scar-faced hombre over there by the chuckaluck table?”
“I don’t know who he is. He sure carries a brand. What about him?”
“Oh, nothing much, except that he told Regan that West had on brass knuckles when he hit him.”
Doc smiled thinly. “West usually wears ’em, I understand.”
“I know—but this is different. West is used to fighting with miners. Cowboys don’t take kindly to brass knuckles.”
Doc shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
“What of it?” he asked.
“Nothing—mebbe. They tell me that Regan is a fast gunman.”
“Well, that’s no skin off my nose. What became of my derringer?”
“Regan got it.”
“Quite a boy—this Regan,” mused Doc thoughtfully.
JACK WEST came back to the Tonto and walked quickly through the big room, going straight back to the office. Doc Sargent’s eyes narrowed as he watched the broad back of his employer disappear through the doorway. He turned back to the bar and was talking with the bartender when West came up to him.
“Come back to the office, Doc,” he said.
West closed the office door and stepped over near the desk.
“You saw me take a newspaper clipping from an envelope a while ago, Doc,” he said slowly, his eyes narrowed.
“Yes, I did,” replied Doc. “You put it back in the envelope and put it in your pocket.”
“You saw me do that?”
“Why—yes, I saw you. What about it, West?”
West turned and knelt down beside the desk, searching the floor. He opened desk drawers, examined them, and searched the floor of the little office. Finally he got to his feet and leaned against the desk, a puzzled frown between his hard eyes.
“That’s damn funny,” he muttered. “It’s gone.”
“Why, you put it in that envelope,” said the gambler.
“I thought I did. Doc, I’d give a cold thousand dollars for that clipping—and no questions asked.”
“A thousand dollars? Well, let me take a look!”
Naturally, Doc’s search was futile. Finally he dusted off his knees and looked curiously at Jack West.
“Is there some joke connected with it?” he asked.
“Joke?” West smiled bitterly. “Would I pay a thousand for a joke?”
“Were you serious about that thousand dollars?”
“Yo’re damn right! And I’d murder the man who got it—if he ever tried to use it.”
“Holy smoke!” exclaimed Doc. “Why, what on earth was it, West?”
West ignored the direct question.
“Who came in here, after I left?” he countered.
“No one, as far as I know, I followed you out.”
“Don’t you keep that door locked?”
“Not very often. I’ll see if I can find out who came in here.”
“Drop it. Mebbe I lost it on the street, and it blew away. I hope to God I did. I’ll just have to wait—and see.”
“If I knew what it was—” suggested Doc.
“If you knew what it was,” said West slowly, “and I knew that you knew what it was—you wouldn’t live to reach that door, Doc.”
“Whew! Thank you for not telling me, West. But that don’t show who put it in the desk.”
West shook his head slowly, but his mind was working swiftly. Who was there in Tonto City with a knowledge of things that happened in that little Eastern town nearly twenty-five years ago? Who would preserve a clipping all these years, and drop it into his mail? And why? It was a chapter of his wild life that he thought closed years ago.
“I don’t know who left it there,” he replied wearily. “Forget it, Doc.”
“You look kinda sick, West.”
“I’m all right—forget it.”
“I have a very poor memory,” said Doc. “But just as a word of warning—keep an eye on Danny Regan. He knows you wore a pair of brass knucks—and they say he’s a muy malo hombre with a six-gun.”
“Aw, to hell with him!” rasped West. “I know how to handle his kind.”
They walked out together, and West left the saloon. His stays in Tonto City had been very short; so he sauntered along the main street, getting familiar with the business places. West intended making Tonto City his headquarters in a short time.
He stopped near the show-window of Harper’s Millinery, and was idly watching the street, when a movement in the window caused him to turn his head. Mrs. Harper had drawn back the curtain background, and was arranging some hats. Mrs. Harper had been a beautiful girl, and at middle age she was a handsome woman.
WEST STARED at her, his jaw slacked. It was his second shock of the day. As she lifted her head, he turned quickly away. But he got another good look at her before the curtains dropped into place. With a muttered curse on his lips, Jack West strode back to the saloon.
Doc Sargent was talking with Lola, but West called him back to the office.
“Did you find it?” queried Doc.
“No. What do you know about the Harper people—the hat store?”
Doc smiled sourly. “Not very much, West. Mother and daughter.”
“Been here long?”
“Quite a few years, I believe. Lon Harper, the woman’s husband, has been dead quite a while, I believe.”
“Yo’re doin’ a lot of believin’, Doc.”
“Maybe I am. What else do you want to know?”
“How much of a business are they doin’?”
“I don’t know that one,” smiled Doc. “I suppose they are making a living.”