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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCrooked Trails And Straight - Part 2. Luck - Chapter 3. An Initialed Hat
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Crooked Trails And Straight - Part 2. Luck - Chapter 3. An Initialed Hat Post by :karnandi Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :2733

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Crooked Trails And Straight - Part 2. Luck - Chapter 3. An Initialed Hat

PART II. LUCK
CHAPTER III. AN INITIALED HAT

Mackenzie was reading the _Sentinel while he ate a late breakfast. He had it propped against the water bottle, so that it need not interfere with the transportation of sausages, fried potatoes, hot cakes, and coffee to their common destination.

Trying to do two things at once has its disadvantages. A startling headline caught his eyes just as the cup was at his lips. Hot coffee, precipitately swallowed, scalded his tongue and throat. He set down the cup, swore mildly, and gave his attention to the news that had excited him. The reporter had run the story to a column, but the leading paragraph gave the gist of it:


While the citizens of Saguache were peacefully sleeping last night, a lone bandit held up the messengers of the Western and Southern Express Company, and relieved them of $20,000 just received from El Paso on the Flyer.

Perry Hawley, the local manager of the company, together with Len Rogers, the armed guard, had just returned from the depot, where the money had been turned over to them and receipted for. Hawley had unlocked the door of the office and had stepped in, followed by Rogers, when a masked desperado appeared suddenly out of the darkness, disarmed the guard and manager, took the money, passed through the door and locked it after him, and vanished as silently as he had come. Before leaving, he warned his victims that the place would be covered for ten minutes and at any attempt to call for help they would be shot. Notwithstanding this, the imprisoned men risked their lives by raising the alarm.


Further down the page Mackenzie discovered that the desperado was still at large, but that Sheriff Bolt expected shortly to lay hands on him.

"I'll bet a dollar Nick Bolt didn't make any such claim to the reporter. He ain't the kind that brags," Mackenzie told himself.

He folded the paper and returned to his room to make preparation to return to his ranch. The buzz of the telephone called him to the receiver. The voice of Cullison reached him.

"That you, Mac. I'll be right up. No, don't come down. I'd rather see you alone."

The owner of the Circle C came right to business. "I've made a raise, Mac, and while I've got it I'm going to skin off what's coming to you."

He had taken a big roll of bills from his pocket, and was counting off what he had lost to his friend. The latter noticed that it all seemed to be in twenties.

"Twelve hundred. That squares us, Mac."

The Scotchman was vaguely uneasy without a definite reason for his anxiety. Only last night Cullison had told him not a single bank in town would advance him a dollar. Now he had money in plenty. Where had he got it?

"No hurry at all, Luck. Pay when you're good and ready."

"That's now."

"Because I'll only put it in the Cattlemen's National. It's yours if you need it."

"I'll let you know if I do," his friend nodded.

Mackenzie's eye fell on a copy of the _Sentinel protruding from the other's pocket. "Read about the hold-up of the W. & S. Express? That fellow had his nerve with him."

"Sho! This hold-up game's the easiest yet. He got the drop on them, and there was nothing to it. The key was still in the lock of the door. Well, when he gets through he steps out, turns the key, and rides away."

"How did he know there was money coming in last night?"

"There's always a leak about things of that sort. Somebody talks. I knew it myself for that matter."

"You knew! Who told you?"

"That's a secret, Mac. Come to think of it, I wish you wouldn't tell anybody that I knew. I don't want to get the man who told me in trouble."

"Sure I won't." He passed to another phase of the subject. "The _Sentinel says Bolt expects to catch the robber. Think he will?"

"Not if the fellow knows his business. Bolt has nothing to go on. He has the whole Southwest to pick from. For all he knows, it was you."

"Yes, but----"

"Or more likely me." The gray eyes of the former sheriff held a frosty smile.

In spite of that smile, or perhaps because of it, Mackenzie felt again that flash of doubt. "What's the use of talking foolishness, Luck? Course you didn't do it. Anybody would know that. Man, I whiles wonder at you," he protested, relapsing into his native tongue as he sometimes did when excited.

"I didn't say I did it. I said I might have done it"

"Oh, well! You didn't. I know you too well."

But the trouble was Mackenzie did not know him well enough. Cullison was hard up, close to the wall. How far would he go to save himself? Thirty years before when they had been wild young lads these two had hunted their fun together. Luck had always been the leader, had always been ready for any daredeviltry that came to his mind. He had been the kind to go the limit in whatever he undertook, to play it to a finish in spite of opposition. And what a man is he must be to the end. In his slow, troubled fashion, Mac wondered if his old side partner's streak of lawlessness would take him as far as a hold-up. Of course it would not, he assured himself; but he could not get the ridiculous notion out of his head. It drew his thoughts, and at last his steps toward the express office where the hold-up had taken place.

He opened a futile conversation with Hawley, while Len Rogers, the guard who had not made good, looked at him with a persistent, hostile eye.

"Hard luck," the cattleman condoled.

"That's what you think, is it? You and your friends, too, I reckon."

Mackenzie looked at the guard, who was plainly sore in every humiliated crevice of his brain. "I ain't speaking for my friends, Len, but for myself," he said amiably.

Rogers laughed harshly. "Didn't know but what you might be speaking for one of your friends."

"They can all speak for themselves when they have got anything to say."

Hawley sent a swift, warning look toward his subordinate. The latter came to time sulkily. "I didn't say they couldn't."

Mackenzie drifted from this unfriendly atmosphere to the courthouse. He found Sheriff Bolt in his office. It was that official's busy day, but he found time not only to see the owner of the Fiddleback, but to press upon him cordially an invitation to sit down and smoke. The Scotchman wanted to discuss the robbery, but was shy about attacking the subject. While he boggled at it, Bolt was off on another tack.

Inside of a quarter of an hour the sheriff had found out all he wanted to know about the poker game, Cullison's financial difficulties, and the news that Luck had liquidated his poker debt since breakfast time. He had turned the simple cattleman's thoughts inside out, was aware of the doubt Billie had scarcely admitted to himself, and knew all he did except the one point Luck had asked him not to mention. Moreover, he had talked so casually that his visitor had no suspicion of what he was driving at.

Mackenzie attempted a little sleuthing of his own. "This hold-up fellow kind of slipped one over on you last night, Bolt."

"Maybe so, and maybe not."

"Got a clew, have you?"

"Oh, yes--yes." The sheriff looked straight at him. "I've a notion his initials are L. C."

Billie felt himself flushing. "What makes you think that, Nick?"

Bolt walked to a cupboard and unlocked it. His back was toward the cattleman, but the latter could see him take something from a shelf. Turning quickly, the sheriff tossed a hat upon the table.

"Ever see this before?"

Mac picked it up. His fingers were not quite steady, for a great dread drenched his heart like a rush of icy water. Upon that gray felt hat with the pinched crown was stamped the individuality--and the initials--of Luck Cullison.

"Don't know as I recognize it," he lied, not very readily. "Not to know it. Why?"

"Thought perhaps you might know it. The hold-up dropped it while getting away."

Mackenzie's eyes flinched. "Dropped it. How was that?"

"A man happened to come along San Miguel street just as the robber swung to his horse. He heard the cries of the men inside, guessed what was doing, and exchanged shots with the miscreant. He shot this hat off the fellow's head."

"The _Sentinel didn't tell any such a story."

"I didn't give that detail to the editor."

"Who was the man that shot the robber?"

"Cass Fendrick."

"But he didn't claim to recognize the hold-up?" Mackenzie forced himself to ask this in spite of his fears.

"Not for certain."

"Then he--he had a guess."

"Yes, Mac. He guessed a man whose initials are the same as those in that hat."

"Who do you mean, Nick?"

"I don't need to tell you that. You know who."

"If you mean Luck Cullison, it's a damned lie," exploded the cattleman. He was furious with himself, for he felt now that he had been unsuspectingly helping to certify the suspicions of the sheriff. Like an idiot, he had let out much that told heavily against his friend.

"I hope so."

"Cass Fendrick is not on good terms with him. We all know that. Luck has got him in a hole. I wouldn't put it a bit above Cass to lie if he thought it would hurt Luck. Tell you it's a damned conspiracy. Man, can't you see that?"

"What about this hat, with the two holes shot through the rim?"

"Sho! We all wear hats just like that. Look at mine." Billie held it out eagerly.

"Has yours an L. C. stamped in the sweat band?" Bolt asked with a smile.

"I know you ain't his friend, Nick. But you want to be fair to him even if he did oppose your election." Mackenzie laid an appealing hand on the knee of the man seated opposite him.

"I'm sheriff of Papago County. It doesn't make any difference who worked for or against me, Billie. I was elected, and I'm going to enforce the law."

"And you think Luck would do a fool thing like this?"

"I didn't say I thought so, but it's my business not to overlook any bets."

"But you do believe it. Now, don't you?"

"Since you've got to have an answer--yes, I do."

"By heaven, I'd as lief think I did it myself."

"You're a good friend," Bolt conceded. "By the way, I've got to pay for some supplies this morning. Can you cash a check for a hundred?"

"I reckon so." Mackenzie drew from his pocket the roll Cullison had given him two hours before. He peeled five twenties from it. The sheriff observed that the prevailing denomination was the same.

"Get these from Luck?" he asked carelessly.

The cattleman stared at him, and the suspicion grew on him that he had been trapped again.

"Why do you ask?"

"Because it happens the bills stolen from the W. & S. were all twenties."

"No, I didn't get them from Cullison. This is money I had," he answered sullenly.

"Then I dare say you can let me see the money you got from him."

"He paid me by check."

"Banked it yet?"

"That's my business, Nick."

"And mine, Billie. I can find out from the bank if you have. Besides, I happen to know that Luck's bank account is overdrawn."

"Some one has been at you to prejudice you, Bolt."

"Nobody but Luck Cullison himself--and his actions."

From the office of the sheriff, Mackenzie wandered to the club in search of Luck. He was thoroughly dispirited, both dreaded to meet Luck, and yet was anxious to do so. For he wanted to warn him, wanted to see him fall into one of his chill rages when he told him there were suspicions against him.

Cullison had left the club, but Alec Flandrau was still there. Billie drew him into a corner, and learned that Luck had just settled with him.

"Anyone see him give it to you, Alec?"

"No. He took me upstairs to the library and paid me."

"In bills?"

"Yes--in twenties."

"For God's sake, don't tell anybody that." In a dozen jerky sentences the owner of the Fiddleback told Flandrau of the suspicions of the sheriff.

Together they went in search of Luck. But though they looked for him all day, he was not to be found. They might have concluded he had ridden out to the ranch, but his horse was still at the stable where he had left it.

The last that had been seen of him Luck was walking along the plaza toward the hotel, not a hundred and fifty yards from the latter. A dozen men had spoken to him in the distance of a block. But he had not been seen to reach his hotel. He had not called for his room key. Somehow he had vanished, and none could tell how or where.

To Bolt his disappearance was as good as a confession of guilt. He searched Luck's room at the hotel. Among other things, he found an old envelope with interesting data penciled on it.

Before nightfall the word was whispered all over Saguache that Luck Cullison, pioneer cattleman and former sheriff, was suspected of the W. & S. Express robbery and had fled to save himself from arrest. At first men marveled that one so well known and so popular, one who had been so prominent in affairs, could be suspected of such a crime, but as they listened to the evidence and saw it fall like blocks of a building into place, the conviction grew that he was the masked bandit wanted by the sheriff.

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