Part 2 out of 4
"Ain't nobody. It's the hootch. Told yuh, didn't I? Gittin' the
best of yuh, ain't it? C'mon--I'll show yuh how it's made."
"Take a barr'l t' git the besta--Casey Ry'n," Casey boasted, his
words blurring noticeably. "Where's y'r White Mule? Let 'er
kick--Casey Ry'n can lead 'er an' tame 'er--an' make'r eat outa
's hand!" Following Joe, Casey stepped high over a rock no
bigger than his fist.
With a lurch he straightened and tried to pull his muddled wits
out of the fog that was fast enveloping them. Dimly he sensed
the importance of this discovery which Joe had forced upon him.
In flashes of normalcy he knew that he must see all he could of
their moonshine operations. He must let them think he was drunk
until he knew all their secrets. He assured himself vaguely that
he must, above all things, keep his head.
But it was all pretty hazy and rapidly growing hazier. Casey
Ryan, you must know, was not what is informally termed a drinking
man. In his youth he might have been able to handle a sudden
half-pint of moonshine whisky and keep as level a head as he now
strove valiantly to retain. But Casey's later years had been
more temperate than most desert men would believe. Unfortunately
virtue is not always it own reward; at least Casey now found
himself the worse for past abstinences.
Joe led him into the tunnel, laughing sardonically because Casey
found it scarcely wide enough for his oscillating progress. They
turned into a drift. Casey did not know which drift it was,
though he tried foggily to remember. He was still, you must
know, trying to keep a level head and gain valuable information
for the sheriff who he hoped would return to the butte with
Paw and Hank were wrangling somewhere ahead. Casey could hear
their raised voices mingled in a confused rumbling in the pent
walls of the drift. Casey thought they passed through a doorway,
and that Joe closed a heavy door behind them, but he was not
Memory of the old woman intoning her horrible anathema surged
back upon Casey with the closing of the door. The voices of Hank
and Paw he now mistook for the ravings of the woman in the stone
hut. Casey balked there, and would not go on. He did not want to
face the old woman again, and he said so repeatedly--or believed
that he did.
Joe caught him by the arm and pulled him forward by main
strength. The voices of Paw and Hank came closer and clarified
into words; or did Casey and Joe walk farther and come into their
They were all standing together somewhere, in a large,
underground chamber with a hole letting in the sunlight high up
on one side. Casey was positive there was a hole up there,
because the sun shone in his eyes and to avoid it he moved aside
and fell over a bucket or a keg or something. Hank laughed
loudly at the spectacle, and Paw swore because the fall startled
him; but it was Joe who helped Casey up.
Casey knew that he was sitting on a barrel--or something--and
telling a funny story. He thought it must be very funny indeed,
because every one was laughing and bending double and slapping
legs while he talked. Casey realized that here at last were men
who appreciated Casey Ryan as he deserved to be appreciated.
Tears ran down his own weathered cheeks--tears of mirth. He had
never laughed so much before in all his life, he thought. Every
one, even Paw, who was normally a mean, cantankerous old cuss,
was having the time of his life.
They attempted to show Casey certain intricacies of their still,
which made it better than other stills and put a greater kick in
the White Mule it bred. Somewhere back in the dim recesses of
Casey's mind, he felt that he ought to listen and remember what
they told him. Vaguely he knew that he must not take another
drink, no matter how insistent they were. In the brief glow of
that resolution Casey protested that he could hoot without any
more hootch. But he hated to hurt Paw's feelings, or Hank's or
Joe's. They had made the hootch with a new and different twist,
and they were honestly anxious for his judgment and approval. He
decided that perhaps he really ought to take a little more just
to please them; not much--a couple of drinks maybe. Wherefore,
he graciously consented to taste the "run" of the day before.
Thereafter Casey Ryan hooted to the satisfaction of everybody,
himself most of all.
After an indeterminate interval the four left the still, taking a
bottle with them so that it might be had without delay, should
they meet a snake or a hydrophobia skunk or some other venomous
reptile. It was Casey who made the suggestion, and he became
involved in difficulties when he attempted the word venomous.
Once started Casey was determined to pronounce the word and
pronounce it correctly, because Casey Ryan never backed up when
he once started. The result was a peculiar humming which
accompanied his reeling progress down the drift (now so narrow
that Casey scraped both shoulders frequently) to the portal.
They stopped on the flat of the dump and argued over the
advisability of taking a drink apiece before going farther, as a
sort of preventive. Joe told them solemnly that they couldn't
afford to get drunk on the darn' stuff. It had too hard a
back-action kick, he explained, and they might forget themselves
if they took too much. It was important, Joe explained at great
length, that they should not forget themselves. The boss had
always impressed upon them the grim necessity of remaining sober
"We never HAVE got drunk," Joe reiterated, "and we can't afford
t' git drunk now. We've got t' keep level heads, snakes or no
Casey Ryan's head was level. He wabbled up to Joe and told him
so to his face, repeating the statement many times and in many
forms. He declaimed it all the way up the path to the dugout,
and when they were standing outside. Beyond all else, Casey was
anxious that Joe should feel perfectly certain that he, Casey
Ryan, knew what he was doing, knew what he was saying, and that
his head was and always had been perr-rf'c'ly level-l-l.
"Jus' t' prove-it--I c'n kill that
jack-over-there--without-no-gun!" Casey bragged bubblingly,
running his words together as if they were being poured in muddy
liquid from his mouth. "B'lieve it? Think-I-can't?"
The three turned circumspectly and stared solemnly at a gray
burro with a crippled front leg that had limped to the dump heap
within easy throwing distance from the cabin door. Hobbling on
three legs it went nosing painfully amongst a litter of tin cans
and bent paper cartons, hunting garbage. As if conscious that it
was being talked about, the burro lifted its head and eyed the
four mournfully, its ears loosely flopping.
"How?" questioned Paw, waggling his beard disparagingly. "Spit
'n 'is eye?"
"Talk 'm t' death," Hank guessed with imbecile shrewdness.
They disputed the point with drunken insistence and mild
imprecations, Hank and Paw and Joe at various times siding
impartially for and against Casey. Casey gathered the impression
that none of them believed him. They seemed to think he didn't
know what he was talking about. They even questioned the fact
that his head was level. He felt that his honor was at stake and
that his reputation as a truthful man and a level-headed man was
While they wrangled, the fingers of Casey's right hand fumbled
unobserved in the sling on his left, twisting together the two
short lengths of fuse so that he might light both as one piece.
Even in his drunkenness Casey knew dynamite and how best to
handle it. Judgment might be dethroned, but the mechanical
details of his profession were grooved deep into habit and were
observed automatically and without the aid of conscious thought.
He braced himself against the dugout wall and raised his hand to
the cigarette he had with some trouble rolled and lighted. A
spitting splutter arose, that would have claimed the attention of
the three, had they not been unanimously engaged in trying to
out-talk one another upon the subject of Casey's ability to kill
a burro seventy-five feet away without a gun.
Casey glanced at them cunningly, drew back his right hand and
pitched something at the burro.
"Y' watch 'im!" he barked, and the three turned around to look,
with no clear conception of what it was they were expected to
The burro jerked its head up, then bent to sniff at the thin curl
of powder smoke rising from amongst the cans. Paw and Hank and
Joe were lifted some inches from the ground with the explosion.
They came down in a hail of gravel, tin cans and fragments of
burro. Casey, flattened against the wall in preparation for the
blast, laughed exultantly.
Paw and Hank and Joe picked themselves up and clung together for
mutual support and comfort. They craned necks forward, goggling
incredulously at what little was left of the burro and the pile
of tin cans.
"'Z that a bumb?" Paw cackled nervously at last, clawing gravel
out of his uncombed beard. "'Z got me all shuck up. Whar's that
"'Z goin' t' eat a bumb--ol' fool burro!" Hank chortled weakly,
feeling tenderly certain nicks on his cheeks where gravel had
landed. "Paw, you ol' fool, you, don't hawg the hull thing
--gimme a drink!"
"Casey's sure all right," came Joe's official O.K. of the
performance. "Casey said 'e c'd do it--'n' Casey done it!" He
turned and slapped Casey somewhat uncertainly on the back, which
toppled him against the wall again. "Good'n on us, Casey! Darn'
good joke on us--'n' on the burro!"
Whereupon they drank to Casey solemnly, and one and all, they
proclaimed that it was a VERY good joke on the burro. A merciful
joke, certainly; as you would agree had you seen the poor brute
hungry and hobbling painfully, hunting scraps of food amongst the
litter of tin cans.
After that, Casey wanted to sleep. He forced admissions from the
three that he, Casey Ryan, was all right and that he knew exactly
what he was doing and kept a level head. He crawled laboriously
into his bunk, shoes, hat and all; and, convinced that he had
defended his honor and preserved the Casey Ryan reputation
untarnished, he blissfully skipped the next eighteen hours.
Casey awoke under the vivid impression that some one was driving
a gadget into his skull with a "double-jack." The smell of bacon
scorching filled his very soul with the loathing of food. The
sight of Joe calmly filling his pipe roused Casey to the fighting
mood-- with no power to fight. He was a sick man; and to remain
alive was agony.
The squalid disorder and the stale aroma of a drunken orgy still
pervaded the dugout and made it a nightmare hole to Casey. Hank
came tittering to the bunk and offered him a cup of coffee, muddy
from too long boiling, and Joe grinned over his pipe at the
colorful language with which Casey refused the offering.
"Better take a brace uh hootch," Joe suggested with no more than
his normal ill nature. "I got some over at the still we made
awhile back that, ain't quite so kicky. Been agin' it in wood
an' charcoal. That tones 'er down. I'll go git yuh some after we
eat. Kinda want a brace, myself. That new hootch shore is a
Paw accepted this remark, as high praise, and let three hot cakes
burn until their edges curled while he bragged of his skill as a
maker of moonshine. Paw himself was red-eyed and loose-lipped
from yesterday's debauch. Hank's whole face, especially in the
region of his eyes, was puffed unbecomingly. Casey, squinting an
angry eye at Hank and the cup of coffee, spared a thought from
his own misery to acknowledge surprise that anything on earth
could make Hank more unpleasant to look upon. Joe had a sickly
pallor to prove the potency of the brew.
For such is the way of moonshine when fusel oil abounds, as it
does invariably in new whisky distilled by furtive amateurs
working in secret and with neither the facilities nor the
knowledge for its scientific manufacture. There is grim
significance in the sardonic humor of the man who first named it
White Mule. The kick is certain and terrific; frequently it is
fatal as well. The worst of it is, you never know what the
effect will be until you have drunk the stuff; and after you have
drunk it, you are in no condition to resist the effect or to
refrain from courting further disaster.
That is what happened to Casey. The poison in the first
half-pint, swallowed under the eye of Joe's six-shooter, upset
his judgment. The poison in his further potations made a wholly
different man of Casey Ryan; and the after effect was so terrific
that he would have swallowed cyanide if it promised relief.
He gritted his teeth and suffered tortures until Joe returned and
gave him a drink of whisky in a chipped granite cup. Almost
immediately he felt better. The pounding agony in his head eased
perceptibly and his nerves ceased to quiver. After a while he
sat up, gazed longingly at the water bucket and crawled down from
the bunk. He drank largely in great gulps. His bloodshot eyes
strayed meditatively to the coffee pot. After an undecided
moment he walked uncertainly to the stove and poured himself a
cup of coffee.
Casey lifted the cup to drink, but the smell of it under his nose
sickened him. He weaved uncertainly to the door, opened it and
threw out the coffee--cup and all. Which was nature flying a
storm flag, had any one with a clear head been there to observe
the action and the look on Casey's face.
"Gimme another shot uh that damn' hootch," he growled. Joe
pushed the bottle toward Casey, eyeing him curiously.
"That stuff they run yesterday shore is kicky," Joe ruminated
sympathetically. "Pap's proud as pups over it. He thinks it's
the real article--but I dunno. Shore laid yuh out, Casey, an'
yuh never got much, neither. Not enough t' lay yuh out the way
it did. Y' look sick."
"I AM sick!" Casey snarled, and poured himself a drink more
generous than was wise. "When Casey Ryan says he's sick, you can
put it down he's SICK! He don't want nobody tellin' 'im whether
'e's sick 'r not. --he KNOWS 'e's sick!" He drank, and swore
that it was rotten stuff not fit for a hawg (which was absolute
truth). Then he staggered to the stove, picked up the coffee
pot, carried it to the door and flung it savagely outside because
the odor offended him.
"Mart got back last night," Joe announced casually. "You was dead
t' the world. But we told 'im you was all right, an' I guess he
aims t' give yuh steady work an' a cut-in on the deal. We been
cleanin' up purty good money--but Mart says the market ain't what
it was; too many gone into the business. You're a good cook an'
a good miner an' a purty good feller all around--only the boss
says you'll have t' cut out the booze."
"'J you tell 'im you MADE me drink it?" Casey halted in the
middle of the floor, facing Joe indignantly.
"I told 'im I put it up t' yuh straight--what your business is,
an' all. You got no call t' kick--didn't I go swipe this bottle
uh booze for yuh t' sober up on, soon as the boss's back was
turned? I knowed yuh needed it; that's why. We all needed it.
I'm just tellin' yuh the boss don't approve of no celebrations
like we had yest'day. I got up early an' hauled that burro outa
sight 'fore he seen it. That's how much a friend I be, an' it
wouldn't hurt yuh none to show a little gratitude!"
"Gratitude, hell! A lot I got in life t' be grateful for!"
Casey slumped down on the nearest bench, laid his injured hand
carefully on the table and leaned his aching head on the other
while he discoursed bitterly on the subject of his wrongs.
His muddled memory fumbled back to his grievance against traffic
cops, distorting and magnifying the injustice he had received at
their hands. He had once had a home, a wife and a fortune, he
declared, and what had happened? Laws and cops had driven him
out, had robbed him of his home and his family and sent him out
in the hills like a damned kiotey, hopin' he'd starve to death.
And where, he asked defiantly, was the gratitude in that?
He told Joe ramblingly but more or less truthfully how he had
been betrayed and deserted by a man he had befriended; one Barney
Oakes, upon whom Casey would like to lay his hands for a minute.
"What I done to the burro ain't nothin' t' what I'd do t' that
hound uh hell!" he declared, pounding the table with his good
Homeless, friendless; but Joe was his friend, and Paw and Hank
were his friends--and besides them there was in all the world not
one friend of Casey Ryan's. They were good friends and good
fellows, even if they did put too much hoot in their hootch.
Casey Ryan liked his hootch with a hoot in it.
He was still hooting (somewhat incoherently it is true, with
recourse now and then to the bottle because he was sick and he
didn't give a darn who knew it) when the door opened and he whom
they called Mart walked in. Joe introduced him to Casey, who sat
still upon the bench and looked him over with drunken
disparagement. Casey had a hazy recollection of wanting to see
the boss and have it out with him, but he could not recall what
it was that he had been so anxious to quarrel about.
Mart was a slender man of middle height, with thin, intelligent
face and a look across the eyes like the old woman who rocked in
the stone hut. He glanced from the bottle to Casey, eyeing him
sharply. Drunk or sober, Casey was not the man to be stared
down; nevertheless his fingers strayed involuntarily to his shirt
collar and pulled fussily at the wrinkles.
"So you're the man they've been holding here for my inspection,"
Mart said coolly, with a faint smile at Casey's evident
discomfort. "You're still hitting it up, I see. Joe, take that
bottle away from him. When he's sober enough to talk straight,
I'll give him the third degree and see what he really is, anyway.
Guess he's all right--but he sure can lap up the booze. That's a
point against him."
Casey's hand went to the bottle, beating Joe's by three inches.
He did not particularly want the whisky, but it angered him to
hear Mart order it taken from him. Away back in his mind where
reason had gone into hiding, Casey knew that some great injustice
was being done him; that he, Casey Ryan, was not the man they
were calmly taking it for granted that he was.
With the bottle in his hand he rose and walked unsteadily to his
bunk. He did not like this man they called the boss. He
remembered that in his bunk, under the bedding, he had concealed
something that would make him the equal of them all. He fumbled
under the blankets, found what he sought and with his back turned
to the others he slipped the thing into his sling out of sight.
Mart and Joe were talking together by the table, paying no
attention to Casey, who was groggily making up his mind to crawl
into his bunk and take another sleep. He still meant to have it
out with Mart, but he did not feel like tackling the job just
Mart turned to the door and Joe got up to follow him, with a
careless glance over his shoulder at Casey, who was lifting a
foot as if it weighed a great deal, and was groping with it in
the air trying to locate the edge of the lower bunk. Joe
laughed, but the laugh died in his throat, choked off suddenly by
what he saw when Mart pulled open the door.
Casey turned suspiciously at the laugh and the sound of the door
opening. He swung round and steadied himself with his back
against the bunk when he saw Mart and Joe lift their hands and
hold them there, palms outward, a bit higher than their heads.
Something in the sight enraged Casey unreasoningly. A flick of
the memory may have carried him back to the old days in the
mining camps when Casey drove stage and hold-ups were frequent.
"What 'r yuh tryin' to pull on me now?" he bawled, and rushed
headlong toward them, pushing them forcibly out into the open
with a collision of his body against Joe. Outside, a voice
harshly commanded him to throw up his hands--and it was then that
Casey Ryan's Irish fighting blood boiled and bubbled over.
Unconsciously he pushed his hat forward over one eye, drew back
his lips in a fighting grin, stepped down off the low doorsill
with a lurch that nearly sent him sprawling and went weaving
belligerently toward a group of five men whose attitude was
anything but conciliatory.
"Casey Ryan! I'm dogged if it ain't Casey!" exclaimed a familiar
voice in the group, whereat the others looked astonished. Through
his slits of swollen lids Casey glared toward the voice and
recognized Barney Oakes, grinning at him with what Casey
considered a Judas treachery. He saw two men step away from Joe
and the boss, leaving them in handcuffs.
"Take them irons off'n my friends!" bellowed Casey as he charged.
"Whadda yuh think you're doin', anyway? Take 'em off! It's
Casey Ryan that's tellin' yuh, an' yuh better heed what he says,
before you're tore from limb to limb!"
"B-but, Casey! This 'ere's a shurf's possy!" The voice of
Barney rose in a protesting 'squawk. "I brung 'em all the way
over here to your rescue! They brung a cor'ner to view your
remains! Don't you know your pardner, BARNEY OAKES?
"Ah-h--I know yuh think I don't? I know yuh to a fare-yuh-well!
Brung a cor'ner, did yuh? Tha's all right--goin' t' need a
cor'ner-but he won't set on Casey Ryan's remains--you c'n ask
anybody if any cor'ners ever set on Casey Ryan yit! Naw." Casey
snarled as contemptuously as was possible to a man in his
condition. "No cor'ner ever set on Casey Ryan, an' he ain't goin'
The men glanced questioningly at one another. One laughed. He
was a large, smooth-jowled man inclined to portliness, and his
laugh vibrated his entire front contagiously so that the others
grinned and took it for granted that Casey Ryan was a comedy
element introduced unexpectedly where they had thought to find
him a tragedy.
"No, you're a pretty lively man for me to sit on; I admit it,"
the portly man remarked. "I'm the coroner, and it looks as if I
wouldn't sit, this trip."
Casey eyed him blearily, not in the least mollified but instead
swinging to a certain degree of lucidity that was nevertheless
governed largely by the hoot he had swallowed in the hootch.
"There's part of a burro 'round here some'er's you c'n set on,"
Casey informed him grimly, and fumbled in his coat pocket for his
pipe. He drew it out empty, looked at it and returned it to his
pocket. One who knew Casey intimately would have detected a
hidden purpose in his manner. The warning was faint, indefinable
at best, and difficult to picture in words. One might say that
an intimate acquaintance would have detected a false note in
Casey's defiance. His manner was restrained just when violence
would have been more natural.
"Damn a pipe," Casey grumbled with drunken petulance. "Anybody
got a cigarette? I'm single-handed an' I ain't able t' roll
It was the coroner himself who handed Casey a "tailor-made."
Casey nodded glumly, accepted a match and lighted the cigarette
almost as if he were sober. He looked the group over
noncommittally, eyed again the handcuffs on Mart and Joe, sent a
veiled glance toward Barney Oakes and turned away. He still held
the center of the stage. Fully expecting to find him dead, the
sheriff and his men were slow to adjust themselves to the fact
that he was very much alive and very drunk and apparently not
greatly interested in his rescue.
Casey halted in his unsteady progress toward the dugout. The
sheriff was already questioning his two prisoners about other
members of the gang; but he looked up when Casey lifted up his
voice and spoke his mind of the moment.
"Brung a cor'ner, did yuh, lookin' for some one to set on!
Barney Oakes is the man that'll need a cor'ner in a minute.
You're all goin' to need 'im. Casey Ryan never stood around yit
whilst his friends was hobbled up by a shurf--turn 'em loose an'
turn 'em loose quick! An' git back away from Barney Oakes so he
won't drop on yuh in chunks--I'll fix 'im for yuh to set on!"
His hand had gone up to his cigarette, but only Joe knew what was
likely to follow. Joe gave a yell of warning, ducked and ran
straight away from the group. The sheriff yelled also and gave
chase. The group was broken--luckily--just as Casey heaved
something in that direction.
"I blowed up a jackass yesterday when they thought I couldn't
--I'll blow up a bunch of 'em to-day! Yuh c'n set on what's left
uh Barney Oakes!"
The explosion scattered dirt and small stones--and the sheriff's
posse. Casey sent one malevolent glance over his shoulder as he
stumbled into the dugout.
"Missed 'im!" he grumbled disgustedly to himself when he saw no
fragments of Barney falling. His ferociousness, like the
dynamite, annihilated itself with the explosion. "Missed 'im!
Casey Ryan's gittin' old; old an' sick an' a damn' fool. Missed
'im with the last shot--drunk--drunk an' don't give a darn!"
He slammed the door shut behind him, pushed his hat forward so
violently that it rested on the bridge of his nose, and wabbled
over to his bunk. This time his foot found the edge of the lower
bunk, and he scratched and clawed his way up and rolled in upon
He was asleep and snoring when the sheriff, edging his way in as
if he were an animal trainer's apprentice entering the lion's
cage, sneaked on his toes to the bunk and slipped the handcuffs
Casey awoke almost sober and considerably surprised when he
discovered the handcuffs. His injured hand was throbbing from
the poison in his system and the steel band on his swollen wrist.
His head still ached frightfully and his tongue felt thick and
dry as flannel in his mouth.
He rolled over and sat up, staring uncomprehendingly at the cabin
full of men. The sight of Barney Oakes recalled in a measure his
performance with the dynamite; at least, he felt a keen
disappointment that Barney was alive and whole and grinning.
Casey could not see what there was to grin about, and he took it
as a direct insult to himself.
Mart and Joe sat sullenly on a bench against the wall, and Paw
reclined in his bunk at the farther end of the room. A
blood-stained bandage wrapped Paw's head turbanwise, and his
little, deep-set eyes gleamed wickedly in his pallid face. Casey
looked for Hank, but he was not there.
A strange man was cooking supper, and Casey wanted to tell him
that he was slicing the bacon twice as thick as it should be.
The corpulent man, whom he dimly remembered as a coroner, was
talking with a big, burly individual whom Casey guessed was the
sheriff. A man came in and announced to the big man that the car
was fixed and they could go any time. Mart, who had been staring
morosely down at his shackled wrists, lifted his head and spoke
to the sheriff.
"You'll have to do something about my mother," he said, and bit
his lip at the manner in which every head swung his way.
"What about your mother?" the sheriff asked moving toward him.
"Is she here?" His eyes sent a quick glance around the room
which obviously had four outside walls.
Mart swallowed. "She has a cabin to herself," he explained
constrainedly. "She--she isn't quite right. Strangers excite
her. She--hasn't been well since my father was killed in the
mine; she's quiet enough with us--she knows us. I don't know how
she'll be now. I'm afraid--but she can't be left here alone; all
I ask is, be as gentle as you can."
The sheriff looked from him to Joe. Joe nodded confirmation.
"Plumb harmless," he said gruffly. "It IS kinda--pitiful.
Thinks everybody in the world is damned and going to hell on a
long lope." He gave a snort that resembled neither mirth nor
disgust. "Mebbe she's right at that," he added grimly.
The sheriff asked more questions, and Mart stood up. "I'll show
you where she is, sure. But can't you leave her be till we're
ready to start? She--it ain't right to bring her here."
"She'll want her supper," the sheriff reminded Mart. "We'll be
driving all night. Is she sick abed?"
Casey lay down again and turned his face to the wall. He
remembered the old woman now, and he hoped sincerely they would
not bring her into the cabin. But whatever they did, Casey
wanted no part in it whatever. He wanted to be left alone, and
he wanted to think. More than all else he wanted not to see again
the old woman who chanted horrible things while she rocked and
He was roused from uneasy slumber by two officious souls, one of
whom was Barney Oakes. Their intentions were kindly enough, they
only wanted to give him his supper. But Casey wanted neither
supper nor kindly intentions, and he was still unregenerately
regretful that Barney Oakes was not lying out on the garbage heap
in a more or less fragmentary condition. They raised him to a
sitting posture, and Casey swung his legs over the edge of the
bunk and delivered a ferocious kick at Barney Oakes.
He caught Barney under the chin, and Barney went down for several
counts. After that Casey wore hobbles on his feet, and was
secretly rather proud of the fact that they considered him so
dangerous as all that. Had his mood not been a sulky one which
refused to have speech with any one there, they would probably
have found it wise to gag him as well.
That is one night in Casey's turbulent life which he never
recalled if he could help it. Two cars had brought the sheriff's
party, and one was a seven-passenger. In the roomy rear seat of
this car, Casey, shackled and savage, was made to ride with Mart
and his mother. Two deputies occupied the folding seats and never
relaxed their watchfulness.
Casey's head still ached splittingly, and the jolting of the car
did not serve to ease the, pain. The old woman sat in the
middle, with a blanket wound round and round her to hold her
quiet; which it failed to do. Into Casey's ear rolled the full
volume of her rich contralto voice as she monotonously intoned
the doom of all mankind--together with every cat, every rat, etc.
Mart's fear had proved well-founded. Strangers had excited the
woman and it was not until sheer exhaustion silenced her that she
ceased for one moment her horrible chant.
I read the story in the morning paper, and made a flying trip to
San Bernardino. Casey was in jail, naturally; but he didn't care
much about that so long as he owned a head with an air-drill
going inside. At least, that is what he told me when I was let
in to see him. I was working to get him out of there on bail if
possible before I sent word to the Little Woman, hoping she had
not read the papers. I had some trouble piecing the facts
together and trying to get the straight of things before I sent
word to the Little Woman. I went out and got him some medicine
guaranteed, by the doctor who wrote the prescription, to take the
hoot out of the hootch Casey had swallowed. That afternoon Casey
left off glaring at me, sat up, accepted a cigarette and
consented to talk.
"--an' all I got to say is, Barney Oakes is a liar an' the father
uh liars. I never was in cahoots with him at no time. When he
says I got 'im to foller a Joshuay palm jest to git 'im out in
the hills an' kill 'im off, he lies. Let 'im come an' tell me
that there story!"
Casey was still slightly abnormal, I noticed, so I calmed him as
best I could and left him alone for a time. There was some
hesitancy about the bail, too, which I wished to overcome.
Throwing that half-stick of dynamite might be construed as an
attempt at wholesale murder. I did not want the county officials
to think too long and harshly about the matter.
I explained later to Casey that Barney Oakes had reported his
disappearance to the officials in Barstow. The sheriff's office
had long suspected a nest of moonshiners somewhere near Black
Butte, and it was rumored that one Mart Hanson, who owned a mine
up there, was banking more money than was reasonable, these hard
times, for a miner, who ships no ore. Casey's disappearance had
crystallized the suspicions into an immediate investigation. And
Barney's assertion that Casey had been murdered took the coroner
along with the posse.
It had all been straight and fairly simple until they reached the
mine and discovered Casey uproariously one of the gang. Throwing
loaded dynamite at sheriffs is frowned upon nowadays in the best
official circles, I told Casey; he would have to explain that in
court, I was afraid.
Then Barney, after Casey had kicked him in the chin, had reversed
his first report of the trouble and was now declaiming to all who
would listen that he had been decoyed to Black Butte by Casey
Ryan and there ambushed and nearly killed. Casey, as Barney now
interpreted the incident, had joined his confederates under the
very thin pretense of climbing the butte to come at them from
behind. Barney now remembered that he had been shot at from three
different angles, and that the burros had been killed by pistol
shots fired at close range--presumably by Casey Ryan.
It was like taming tigers to make Casey sit still and listen to
all this, but I had to do it so that he would know what to
disprove. Afterwards I had a talk with Joe and Paw, separately,
and so got at the whole truth. They bore no malice toward Casey
and were perfectly willing to see him out of the scrape. They
were a sobered pair; Hank, like a fool, had fired at the posse
and was killed.
The next day came the Little Woman to the rescue. I told her the
whole story, not even omitting the burro, before she went to the
jail to see Casey. It was a pretty mess--take it all around--and
I was secretly somewhat doubtful of the outcome.
The Little Woman is game as women are made. She went with me to
the jail, and she met Casey with a whimsical smile. We found him
sitting on the side of his bunk with his legs stretched out and
his feet crossed, his good hand thrust in his trousers pocket and
a cigarette in one corner of his mouth, which turned sourly
downward. He cocked an eye up at us and rose, as the Little Woman
had maybe taught him was proper. But he did not say a word until
the Little Woman walked up and kissed him on both cheeks, turning
his face this way and that with her hand under his chin.
Casey grinned sheepishly then and hugged her with his good arm. I
wish you could have seen the look in his eyes when they dwelt on
the Little Woman!
"Casey Ryan, you need a shave. And your shirt collar is a
disgrace to a Piute," she drawled reprovingly.
Casey looked at me over her shoulder and grinned. He hadn't a
word to say for himself, which was unusual in Casey Ryan.
"It's lucky for you, Casey Ryan, that I remembered to go down to
the police station and get the proof that you were pinched twice
on Broadway just five days before Barney Oakes says he found you
stalled in the trail north of Barstow; and that you had been
pinched pretty regularly every whip-stitch for the last six
months, and were a familiar and unwelcome figure in downtown
traffic and elsewhere.
"The sheriff who raided Black Butte admitted to me that it is
utterly impossible for the world to hold more than one Casey Ryan
at a time; and that he, for one, is willing to accept the word of
the city police that you were there raising the record for
traffic trouble and not moonshining at Black Butte. He doesn't
approve of throwing dynamite at people, but--well, I talked with
the prosecuting attorney, too, and they both seem to be mighty
nice men and reasonable. I'm afraid Barney Oakes will see his
beautiful story all spoiled."
"He'll forget it when he feels the ruin to his face I'm goin' t'
create for him if I ever meet up with 'im again," Casey commented
"Babe sent you a pincushion she made in school. I think she made
beautiful, neat stitches in that C," went on the Little Woman in
a placid, gossipy tone invented especially for domestic
conversation. "And--oh, yes! There's a new laundryman on our
route, and he PERSISTS in running across the lawn and dumping the
laundry in the front hall, though I've told him and TOLD him to
deliver it at the back. And there's a new tenant in Number Six,
and they hadn't been in more than three days before he came home
drunk and kept everybody in the house awake, bellowing up and
down the hall and abusing his wife and all. I told him held have
to go when his month is up, but he says he'll be damned if he
will. He says he won't and I can't make him."
"He won't, hey?" A familiar, pale glitter came into Casey's
eyes. "You watch and see whether he goes or not! He better tell
Casey Ryan he won't go! Who'd, they think's runnin' the place?
Lemme ketch that laundry driver oncet, runnin' across our lawn;
I'll run 'im across it--on his nose! They take advantage of you
quick as my back's turned. I'll learn 'em they got Casey Ryan to
The Little Woman gave me a smiling glance over Casey's shoulder,
and lowered a cautious eyelid. I left them then and went away to
have a satisfying talk with the sheriff and the prosecuting
In the desert, where roads are fewer and worse than they should
be, a man may travel wherever he can negotiate the rocks and
sand, and none may say him nay. If any man objects, the traveler
is by custom privileged to whip the objector if he is big enough,
and afterwards go on his way with the full approval of public
opinion. He may blaze a trail of his own, return that way a year
later and find his trail an established thoroughfare.
In the desert Casey gave trail to none nor asked reprisals if he
suffered most in a sudden meeting. In Los Angeles Casey was
halted and rebuked on every corner, so he complained; hampered
and annoyed by rules and regulations which desert dwellers never
Since he kept the optimistic viewpoint of a child, experience
seemed to teach him little. Like the boy he was at heart, he was
perfectly willing to make good resolutions--all of which were
more or less theoretical and left to a kindly Providence to keep
intact for him.
So here he was, after we had pried him loose from his last
predicament, perfectly optimistic under his fresh haircut, and
thinking the traffic cops would not remember him. Thinking,
too--as he confided to the Little Woman--that Los Angeles looked
pretty good, after all. He was resolved to lead henceforth a
blameless life. It was time he settled down, Casey declared
virtuously. His last trip into the desert was all wrong, and he
wanted you to ask anybody if Casey Ryan wasn't ready at any and
all times to admit his mistakes, if he ever happened to make any.
He was starting in fresh now, with a new deal all around from a
new deck. He had got up and walked around his chair, he told us,
and had thrown the ash of a left-handed cigarette over his right
shoulder; he'd show the world that Casey Ryan could and would
keep out of gunshot of trouble.
He was rehearsing all this and feeling very self-righteous while
he drove down West Washington Street. True, he was doing
twenty-five where he shouldn't, but so far no officer had yelled
at him and he hadn't so much as barked a fender. Down across
Grand Avenue he larruped, never noticing the terrific bounce when
he crossed the water drains there (being still fresh from desert
roads). He was still doing twenty-five when he turned into Hill
Busy with his good resolutions and the blameless life he was
about to lead, Casey forgot to signal the left-hand turn. In the
desert you don't signal, because the nearest car is probably
forty or fifty miles behind you and collisions are not imminent.
West- Washington-and-Hill-Street crossing is not desert, however.
A car was coming behind Casey much closer than fifty miles; one
of those scuttling Ford delivery trucks. It locked fenders with
Casey when he swung to the left. The two cars skidded as one
toward the right-hand curb; caught amidships a bright yellow,
torpedo-tailed runabout coming up from Main Street, and turned it
neatly on its back, its four wheels spinning helplessly in the
quiet, sunny morning. Casey himself was catapulted over the
runabout, landing abruptly in a sitting position on the corner of
the vacant lot beyond, his self-righteousness considerably
A new traffic officer had been detailed to watch that
intersection and teach a driving world that it must not cut
corners. A bright, new traffic button had been placed in the
geographical center of the crossing; and woe be unto the
right-hand pocket of any man who failed to drive circumspectly
around it. New traffic officers are apt to be keenly
conscientious in their work. At twenty-five dollars per cut,
sixteen unhappy drivers had been taught where the new button was
located and had been informed that twelve miles per hour at that
crossing would be tolerated, and that more would be expensive.
Not all drivers take their teaching meekly, and the new traffic
officer near the end of his shift had pessimistically decided
that the driving world is composed mostly of blamed idiots and
He gritted his teeth ominously when Casey Ryan came down upon the
crossing at double the legal speed. He held his breath for an
instant during the crash that resounded for blocks. When the
dust had settled, he ran over and yanked off the dented sand of
the vacant lot a dazed and hardened malefactor who had committed
three traffic crimes in three seconds: he had exceeded the speed
limit outrageously, cut fifteen feet inside the red button, and
failed to signal the turn.
"You damned, drunken boob!" shouted the new traffic cop and shook
Casey Ryan (not knowing him).
Shaking Casey will never be safe until he is in his coffin with a
lily in his hand. He was considerably jolted, but he managed a
fourth crime in the next five minutes. He licked the traffic cop
rather thoroughly--I suppose because his onslaught was wholly
unexpected--kicked an expostulating minister in the pit of the
stomach, and was profanely volunteering to lick the whole darned
town when he was finally overwhelmed by numbers and captured
alive; which speaks well for the L. A. P.
Wherefore Casey Ryan continued his ride down town in a dark car
that wears a clamoring bell the size of a breakfast plate under
the driver's foot, and a dark red L. A. Police Patrol sign
painted on the sides. Two uniformed, stern-lipped cops rode with
him and didn't seem to care if Casey's nose WAS bleeding all over
his vest. A uniformed cop stood on the steps behind, and another
rode beside the driver and kept his eye peeled over his shoulder,
thinking he would be justified in shooting if anything started
inside. Boys on bicycles pedaled furiously to keep up, and many
an automobile barely escaped the curb because the driver was
goggling at the mussed-up prisoner in the "Black Maria."
The Little Woman telegraphed me at San Francisco that night. The
wire was brief but disquieting. It merely said, "CASEY IN JAIL
SERIOUS NEED HELP." But I caught the Lark an hour later and
thanked God it was running on time.
The Little Woman and I spent two frantic days getting Casey out
of jail. The traffic cop's defeat had been rather public; and
just as soon as he could stand up straight in the pulpit, the
minister meant to preach a series of sermons against the laxity
of a police force that permits such outrages to occur in broad
daylight. More than that, the thing was in the papers, and
people were reading and giggling on the street cars and in
restaurants. Wherefore, the L. A. P. was on its tin ear.
Even so, much may be accomplished for a man so wholesomely human
as Casey Ryan. On the third day the charge against him was
changed from something worse to "Reckless driving and disturbing
the peace." Casey was persuaded to plead guilty to that charge,
which was harder to accomplish than mollifying the L. A. P.
He paid two fifty-dollar fines and was forbidden to drive a car
"in the County of Los Angeles, State of California, during the
next succeeding period of two years." He was further advised
(unofficially but nevertheless with complete sincerity) to pay
all damages to the two cars he had wrecked and to ask the
minister's doctor what was his fee; a new uniform for the traffic
cop was also suggested, since Casey had thrust his foot violently
into the cop's pocket which was not tailored to resist the
strain. The judge also observed, in the course of the
conversation, that desert air was peculiarly invigorating and
that Casey should not jeopardize his health and well-being by
filling his lungs with city smoke.
I couldn't blame Casey much for the mood he was in after a
setback like that to his good resolutions. I was inclined to
believe with Casey that Providence had lain down on the job.
At the corner of the Plaza where traffic is heaviest, a dingy
Ford loaded with camp outfit stalled on the street-car track just
as the traffic officer spread-eagled his arms and turned with
majestic deliberation to let the East-and-West traffic through.
The motorman slid open his window and shouted insults at the
driver, and the traffic cop left his little platform and strode
heavily toward the Ford, pulling his book out of his pocket with
the mechanical motion born of the grief of many drivers.
Casey Ryan, clinging to the front step of the street car on his
way to the apartment house he once more called home, swung off
and beat the traffic officer to the Ford. He stooped and gave a
heave on the crank, obeyed a motion of the driver's head when the
car started, and stepped upon the running board. The traffic
officer paused, waved his book warningly and said something. The
motorman drew in his head, clanged the bell, and the afternoon
traffic proceeded to untangle.
"Get in, old-timer," invited the driver whom Casey had assisted.
Casey did not ask whether the driver was going in his direction,
but got in chuckling at the small triumph over his enemies, the
"Fords are mean cusses," he observed sympathetically. "They like
nothing better than to get a feller in bad. But they can't pull
nothin' on me. I know 'em to a fare-you-well. Notice how this
one changed 'er mind about gettin' you tagged, soon as Casey Ryan
took 'er by the nose?"
"Are you Casey Ryan?" The driver took his eyes off the traffic
long enough to give Casey an appraising look that measured him
mentally and physically. "Say, I've heard quite a lot about you.
Bill Masters, up at Lund, has spoke of you often. He knows you,
"Bill Masters sure had ought t' know me," Casey grinned. In a
big, roaring, unfriendly city, here sounded a friendly, familiar
tone; a voice straight from the desert, as it were. Casey forgot
what had happened when Barney Oakes crossed his path claiming
acquaintance with Bill Masters, of Lund. He bit off a chew of
tobacco, hunched down lower in the seat, and prepared himself for
a real conflab with the man who spoke the language of his tribe.
He forgot that he had just bought tickets to that evening's
performance at the Orpheum, as a sort of farewell offering to his
domestic goddess before once more going into voluntary exile as
advised by the judge. Pasadena Avenue heard conversational
fragments such as, "Say! Do you know--? "Was you in Lund
Casey's new friend drove as fast as the law permitted. He talked
of many places and men familiar to Casey, who was in a mood that
hungered for those places and men in a spiritual revulsion
against the city and all its ways.
Pasadena, Lamanda Park, Monrovia--it was not until the car slowed
for the Glendora speed-limit sign that Casey lifted himself off
his shoulder blades, and awoke to the fact that he was some
distance from home and that the shadows were growing rather long.
"Say! I better get out here and 'phone to the missus," he
exclaimed suddenly. "Pull up at a drug store or some place, will
yuh? I got to talkin' an' forgot I was on my way home when I
throwed in with yuh."
"Aw, you can 'phone any time. There is street cars running back
to town all the time I or you can catch a bus anywhere's along
here. I got pinched once for drivin' through here without a
tail-light; and twice I've had blowouts right along here. This
town's a jinx for me and I want to slip it behind me."
Casey nodded appreciatively. "Every darn' town's a jinx for me,"
he confided resentfully. "Towns an' Casey Ryan don't agree.
Towns is harder on me than sour beans."
"Yeah--I guess L. A.'s a jinx for you all right. I heard about
your latest run-in with the cops. I wish t' heck you'd of
cleaned up a few for me. I love them saps the way I like rat
poison. I've got no use for the clowns nor for towns that
actually hands 'em good jack for dealin' misery to us guys. The
bird never lived that got a square deal from 'em. They grab yuh
and dust yuh off--"
"They won't grab Casey Ryan no more. Why, lemme tell yuh what
Glendora slipped behind and was forgotten while Casey told the
story of his wrongs. In no particular, according to his version,
had he been other than law-abiding. Nobody, he declaimed
heatedly, had ever taken HIM by the scruff of the neck and shaken
him like a pup, and got away with it, and nobody ever would.
Casey was Irish and his father had been Irish, and the Ryan never
lived that took sass and said thank-yuh.
His new friend listened with just that degree of sympathy which
encourages the unburdening of the soul. When Casey next awoke to
the fact that he was getting farther and farther away from home,
they were away past Claremont and still going to the full extent
of the speed limit. His friend had switched on the lights.
"I GOT to telephone my wife!" Casey exclaimed uneasily. "I'll
gamble she's down to the police station right now, lookin' for
me. An' I want the cops t' kinda forgit about me. I got to
talkin' along an' plumb forgot I wasn't headed home."
"Aw, you can 'phone from Fontana. I'll have to stop there anyway
for gas. Say, why don't yuh stall 'er off till morning? You
couldn't get home for supper now if yuh went by wireless. I guess
yuh wouldn't hate a mouthful of desert air after swallowing smoke
and insults, like yuh done in L. A. Tell her you're takin' a
ride to Barstow. You can catch a train out of there and be home
to breakfast, easy. If you ain't got the change in your clothes
for carfare," he added generously, "Why, I'll stake yuh just for
your company on the trip. Whadda yuh say?"
Casey looked at the orange and the grapefruit and lemon orchards
that walled the Foothill Boulevard. All trees looked alike to
Casey, and these reminded him disagreeably of the fruit stalls in
"Well, mebby I might go on to Barstow. Too late now to take the
missus to the show, anyway. I guess I can dig up the price uh
carfare from Barstow back." He chuckled with a sinful pride in
his prosperity, which was still new enough to be novel. "Yuh
don't catch Casey Ryan goin' around no more without a dime in his
hind pocket. I've felt the lack of 'em too many times when they
was needed. Casey Ryan's going to carry a jingle louder'n a lead
burro from now on. You can ask anybody."
"You bet it's wise for a feller to go heeled," the friend of Bill
Masters responded easily. "You never know when yuh might need
it. Well, there's a Bell sign over there. You can be askin' your
wife's consent while I gas up."
Innocent pleasure; the blameless joy of riding in a Ford toward
the desert, with a prince of a fellow for company, was not so
easily made to sound logical and a perfectly commonplace incident
over a long-distance telephone. The Little Woman seemed struck
with a sense of the unusual; her voice betrayed trepidation and
she asked questions which Casey found it difficult to answer.
That he was merely riding as far as Barstow with a desert
acquaintance and would catch the first train back, she apparently
failed to find convincing.
"Casey Ryan, tell me the truth. If you're in a scrape again, you
know perfectly well that Jack and I will have to come and get you
out of it. San Bernardino sounds bad to me, Casey, and you're
pretty close to the place. Do you really want me to believe that
you're coming back on the next train?"
"Sure as I'm standin' here! What makes yuh think I'm in a
scrape? Didn't I tell yuh I'm goin' to walk around trouble from
now on? When Casey tells you a thing like that, yuh got a right
to put it down for the truth. I'm going to Barstow for a breath
uh fresh air. This is a feller that knows Bill Masters. I'll be
home to breakfast. I ain't in no trouble an, I ain't goin' to be.
You can believe that or you can set there callin' Casey Ryan a
liar till I git back. G'by."
Whatever the Little Woman thought of it, Casey really meant to do
exactly what he said he would do. And he really did not believe
that trouble was within a hundred miles of him.
"Wanta drive?" Casey's friend was rolling a smoke before he
cranked up. "They tell me up in Lund that no man livin' ever got
the chance to look back and see Casey Ryan swallowing dust. I've
heard of some that's tried. But I reckon," he added pensively,
while he rubbed the damp edge of the paper down carefully with a
yellowed thumb, "Fords is out of your line, now. Maybe you don't
toy with nothin' cheaper than a twin-six."
"Well, you can ask anybody if Casey Ryan's the man to git
big-headed! Money don't spoil ME none. There ain't anybody c'n
say it does. Casey Ryan is Casey Ryan wherever an' whenever yuh
meet up with him. Yuh might mebby see me next, hazin' a burro
over a ridge. Or yuh might see me with ten pounds uh flour, a
quart uh beans an' a sour-dough bucket on my back. Whichever way
the game breaks--you'll be seein' Casey Ryan; an' you'll see 'im
settin' in the game an' ready t' push his last white chip to the
"I believe it, Casey. Darned if I don't. Well, you drive 'er
awhile; till yuh get tired, anyway." He bent to the crank, gave
a heave and climbed in, with Casey behind the wheel, looking
pleased to be there and quite ready to show the world he could
"Say, if I drive till I'm TIRED," he retorted, "I'm liable to
soak 'er hubs in the Atlantic Ocean before I quit. And then,
mebby I'll back 'er out an' drive 'er to the end of Venice Pier
just for pastime."
"Up in Lund they're talkin' yet about your drivin'," his new
friend flattered him. "They say there's no stops when you get
the wheel cuddled up to your chest. No quittin' an' no passin'
yuh by with a merry laugh an' a cloud of alkali dust. I guess
it's right. I've been wantin' to meet yuh."
"That there last remark sounds like a traffic cop I had a run-in
with once!" Casey snorted--merely to hide his gratification.
"You sound good, just to listen to, but you ain't altogether
believable. There's men in Lund that'd give an ear to meet me in
a narrow trail with a hairpin turn an' me on the outside an'
"They'd like it to be about a four-thousand-foot drop, straight
down. Lund as a town ain't so crazy about me that they'd close up
whilst I was bein' planted, an' stop all traffic for five
minutes. A show benefit was sprung on Lund once, to help Casey
Ryan that was supposed to be crippled. An' I had to give a good
Ford--a DARN' good Ford! --to the benefitters, so is they could
git outa town ahead uh the howlin' mob. That's how I know the
way Lund loves Casey Ryan. Yuh can't kid ME, young feller."
Meanwhile, Casey swung north into Cajon Pass; up that long,
straight, cement-paved highway to the hills he showed his new
friend how a Ford could travel when Casey Ryan juggled the wheel.
The full moon was pushing up into a cloud bank over a high peak
beyond the Pass. The few cars they met were gone with a whistle
of wind as Casey shot by.
He raced a passenger train from the mile whistling-post to the
crossing, made the turn and crossed the track with the white
finger of the headlight bathing the Ford blindingly. He
completed that S turn and beat the train to the next crossing
half a mile farther on; where he "spiked 'er tail", as he called
it, stopping dead still and waiting jeeringly for the train to
pass. The engineer leaned far out of the cab window to bellow
his opinion of such driving; which was unfavorable to the full
extent of his vocabulary.
"Nothin' the matter with a Ford, as I can see," Casey observed
carelessly, when he was under way again.
"You sure are some driver," his new friend praised him, letting
go the edge of the car and easing down again into the seat.
"Give yuh a Ford and all the gas yuh can burn and I can't see
that you'd need to worry none about any of them saps that makes
it their business to interfere with travelin'. I'm glad that
moon's quit the job. Gives the headlights a show. Hit 'er up
now, fast as yuh like. After that crossin' back there I ain't
expectin' to tremble on no curves. I see you're qualified to
spin 'er on a plate if need be. And for a Ford, she sure can
Casey therefore "let 'er out", and the Ford went like a scared
lizard up the winding highway through the Pass. At Cajon Camp he
slowed, thinking they would need to fill the radiator before
attempting to climb the steep grade to the summit. But the young
man shook his head and gave the "highball." (Which, if you don't
already know it, is the signal for full speed ahead.)
Full speed ahead Casey gave him, and they roared on up the steep,
twisting grade to the summit of the Pass. Casey began to feel a
distinct admiration for this particular Ford. The car was
heavily loaded--he could gauge the weight by the "feel" of the
car as he drove yet it made the grade at twenty-five miles an
hour and reached the top without boiling the radiator; which is
better than many a more pretentious car could do.
"Too bad you've made your pile already," the young man broke a
long silence. "I'd like to have a guy like you for my pardner.
The desert ain't talkative none when you're out in the middle of
it, and you know there ain't another human in a day's drive.
I've been going it alone. Nine-tenths of these birds that are
eager to throw in with yuh thinks that fifty-fifty means you do
the work and they take the jack. I'm plumb fed upon them
pardnerships. But if you didn't have your jack stored away--a
hull mountain of it, I reckon --I'd invite yuh to set into the
game with me; I sure would."
Casey spat into the dark beside the car. "They's never a pile so
big a feller ain't willin' to make it bigger," he replied
sententiously. "Fer, as I'm concerned, Casey's never backed up
from a dollar yet. But I ain't no wild colt no more, runnin'
loose an' never a halter mark on me. I'm bein' broke to harness,
and it's stable an' corral from now on, an' no more open range
fer Casey. The missus hopes to high-school me in time. She's a
good hand--gentle but firm, as the preacher says. And I guess
it's time fer Casey Ryan to quit hellin' around the country an'
settle down an' behave himself."
"I could put you in the way of adding some easy money to your
bank roll," the other suggested tentatively.
But Casey shook his head. "Twenty years ago yuh needn't have
asked me twice, young feller. I'd 'a' drawed my chair right up
and stacked my chips a mile high. Any game that come along, I
played 'er down to the last chip. Twenty years ago--yes, er
ten!--Casey Ryan woulda tore that L. A. jail down rock by rock
an' give the roof t' the kids to make a playhouse. Them L. A.
cops never woulda hauled me t' jail in no wagon. I mighta loaded
'em in behind, and dropped 'em off at the first morgue an' drove
on a-whistlin'. That there woulda been Casey Ryan's gait a few
years back. Take me now, married to a good woman an' gettin'
gray--" Casey sighed, gazing wishfully back at the Casey Ryan he
had been and might never be again.
"No, sir, I ain't so darned rich I ain't willin' to add a few
more iron men to the bunch. But on account of the missus I've
got to kinda pick my chances. I ain't had money so long but what
it feels good to remind myself I got it. I carry a thousand
dollars or so in my inside pocket, just to count over now an'
then to convince myself I needn't worry about a grubstake. I've
got to soak it into my bones gradual that I can afford to settle
down and live tame, like the missus wants. Stand-up collars
every day, an' step into a chiny bathtub every night an'
scrub--when you ain't doin' nothin' to git dirt under your finger
nails even! Funny, the way city folks act. The less they do to
git dirty, the more soap they wear out. You can ask anybody if
that ain't right.
"Can't chew tobacco in the house, even, 'cause there's no place
yuh dast to spit. I stuck m' head out of the bedroom window
oncet, an I let fly an' it landed on a lady; an' the missus went
an' bought her a new hat an took my plug away from me. I had to
keep my chewin' tobacco in the tool-box of my car, after that,
an' sneak out to the beach now an' then an' chew where I could
spit in the ocean. That's city life for yuh!"
"When I git to thinkin' about hittin' out into the hills
prospectin, or somethin', that roll uh dough I pack stands right
on its hind legs an' says I got no excuse. I've got enough to
keep me in bacon an' beans, anyway. An' the missus gits down in
the mouth when I so much as mention minin'."
"A guy grows old fast when he quits the game and sets down to do
the grandpa-by-the-fire. First you know, a clown that thinks
it's time he took it easy is gummin' 'is grub, and shiverin' when
yuh open the door, an' takin' naps in the daytime same as babies.
Let a guy once preach he's gettin' old--"
Casey jerked the gas lever and jumped the car ahead viciously.
"Well, now, any time yuh see CASEY RYAN gummin' 'is grub an'
needin' a nap after dinner--"
"A clown GITS that way once he pulls out of the game. I've saw
it happen time an' again." The young man laughed rather
irritatingly. "Say, when I tell it to Bill Masters that Casey
Ryan has plumb played out his string an' laid down an' QUIT, by
hock, and can be seen hereafter SETTIN' WITH A SHAWL OVER HIS
Casey nearly turned the Ford over at that insult. He jerked it
back into the road and sent it ahead again at a faster pace.
"Well, now, any time yuh see CASEY RYAN settin' with a shawl over
"Well, maybe not YOU; but the bird sure comes to it that thinks
he's too old to play the game. Why, you'll never be ready to
settle down! Take yuh twenty years from now--I'd rather bank on a
pardner like you'd be than some young clown that ain't had the
experience. From the yarns I've heard about yuh, yuh don't back
down from nothing. And you're willing to give a pardner a chance
to get away with his hide on him. I'd rather be held up by the
law than by some clown that's workin' with me."
He paused; and when he, spoke again his tone had changed to meet
a prosaic detail of the drive.
"Stop here in Victorville, will yuh, Casey? I'll take a look at
the radiator and maybe take on some more gas and oil. I've been
stuck on the desert a few times with an empty tank--and that
learns a guy to keep the top of his gas tank full and never mind
"Good idea," said Casey shortly, his own tone relaxing its
tension of a few minutes before. "I run a garage over at Patmos
once, an' the boobs I seen creepin' in on their last spoonful uh
gas--walkin' sometimes for miles to carry gas back to where they
was stalled-- learnt Casey Ryan to fill 'er up every chancet he
But although the subject of age had been dropped half a mile back
in the sand, certain phrases flung at him had been barbed and had
bitten deep into Casey Ryan's self-esteem. They stung and
rankled there. He had squirmed at the picture his new friend had
so ruthlessly drawn with crude words, but bold, of doddering old
age. Casey resented the implication that he might one day fill
He began vaguely to resent the Little Woman's air of needing to
protect him from himself. Casey Ryan, he told himself
boastfully, had never needed protection from anybody. He had
managed for a good many years to get along on his own hook. The
Little Woman was all right, but she was making a mistake--a big
mistake--if she thought she had to close-herd him to keep him out
He rolled a smoke and wished that the Little Woman would settle
down with him somewhere in the desert, where he could keep a
couple of burros and go prospecting in the hills. Where
sagebrush could grow to their very door if it wanted to, and the
moon could show them long stretches of mesa land shadowed with
mystery, and then drop out of sight behind high peaks.
He felt that he might indeed grow old fast, shut up in a city. It
occurred to him that the Little Woman was unreasonable to expect
it of him. Her idea of getting him out of town for a time, as
the judge had advised, was to send him up to San Francisco to be
close-herded there. Casey had promised to go, but now the
prospect jarred. He wasn't feeble-minded, that he knew of; it
seemed natural to want to do his own deciding now and then. When
he got back home in the morning, Casey meant to have a serious
talk with the Little Woman, and get right down to cases, and tell
her that he was built for the desert, and that you can't teach an
old dog new tricks.
"They been tryin' to make Casey Ryan over into something he
ain't," he muttered under his breath, while his new friend was in
the garage office paying for the gas. "Jack an' the Little
Woman's all right, but they can't drive Casey Ryan in no town
herd. Cops is cops; and they got 'em in San Francisco same as
they got 'em in L. A. If they got 'em, I'll run agin' 'em. I'll
tell 'em so, too."
The young man came out, sliding silver coins into his trousers
pocket. He glanced up and down the narrow, little street already
deserted, cranked the Ford and climbed in.
"All set," he observed cheerfully, "Let's go!"
Casey slipped his cigarette to the upper, left-hand corner of his
whimsical, Irish mouth, forced a roar out of the little engine
and whipped around the corner and across the track into the
faintly lighted road that led past shady groves and over a hill
or two, and so into the desert again.
His new friend had fallen into a meditative mood, staring out
through the windshield and whistling under his breath a pleasant
little melody of which he was probably wholly unaware. Perhaps
he felt that he had said enough to Casey just at present
concerning a possible partnership. Perhaps he even regretted
having said anything at all.
Casey himself drove mechanically, his rebellious mood slipping
gradually into optimism. You can't keep Casey Ryan down for
long; in spite of his past unpleasant experiences he was
presently weaving optimistic plans of his own. The young fellow
beside him seemed to return Casey's impulsive friendship. Casey
thought pleasureably of the possibility of their driving over the
desert together, sharing alike the fortunes of the game and the
adventures of the trail. Casey himself had learned to be shy of
partnerships--witness Barney Oakes!--but any man with a drop of
Irish in his blood and a bit of Irish twinkle in his eye would
turn his back on defeat and try again for a winning.
They had just passed over a hilly stretch with many turns and
windings, the moon blotted out completely now by the cloud bank.
For half an hour they had not seen any evidence that other human
beings were alive in the world. But when they went rattling
across a small mesa where the sand was deep, a car with one
brilliant spotlight suddenly showed itself around a turn just
ahead of them.
Casey slowed down automatically and gave a twist to the steering
wheel. But the sand just here was deep and loose, and the front
wheels of the Ford gouged unavailingly at the sides of the ruts.
Casey honked the horn warningly and stopped full, swearing a
good, Caseyish oath. The other car, having made no apparent
effort to turn out, also stopped within a few feet of Casey, the
spotlight fairly blinding him.
The young man beside Casey slid up straight in the seat and
stopped whistling. He leaned out of the car and stared ahead
without the dusty interference of the windshield.
"You can back up a few lengths and make the turn-out all right,"
"If I can back up, so can he. He's got as much road behind him
as what I'VE got," Casey retorted stubbornly. "He never made a
try at turnin' out. I was watchin'. Any time I can't lick a
road hawg, he's got a license to lick me. Make yourself
comf'table, young feller--we're liable to set here a spell."
Casey grinned. "I spent four hours on a hill once, out-settin, a
road hawg that wanted me to back up."
The man in the other car climbed out and came toward them,
walking outside the beams cast by his own glaring spotlight. He
bulked. rather large in the shadows; but Casey Ryan, blinking at
him through the windshield, was still ready and willing to fight
if necessary. Or, if stubbornness were to be the test, Casey
could grin and feel secure. A little man, he reflected, can sit
just as long as a big man.
The big man walked leisurely up to the car and smiled as he
lifted a foot to the running board. He leaned forward, his eyes
going past Casey to the other man.
"I kinda thought it was you, Kenner," he drawled. "How much
liquor you got aboard to-night?"
Casey, slanting a glance downward, glimpsed the barrel of a big
automatic looking toward them.
"What if I ain't got any?" the young man parried glumly. "You're
taking a lot for granted."
The big man chuckled. "If you ain't loaded with hootch, it's
because one of the boys met up with yuh before I did. Open 'er
up. Lemme see what you got."
The young fellow scowled, swore under his breath and climbed out,
turning toward the loaded tonneau with reluctant obedience.
"I can't argue with the law," he said, as he began to pull out a
roll of bedding wedged in tightly. "But, for cripes sake, go as
easy as you can. I'm plumb lame from my last fall!"
The big man chuckled again. "The law's merciful as, it can
afford to be, and I've got a heart like an ox. Got any jack on
"I'm just about cleaned, and that's the Gawd's truth. Have a
heart, can't yuh? A man's got t' live."
"Slip me five hundred, anyway. How much is your load?"
"Sixty gallons--bottled, most of it. Two kegs in bulk." Young
Kenner was proceeding stoically with the unloading. Casey, his
mouth clamped tight shut, was glaring stupifiedly straight out
through the windshield.
"Pile out thirty gallons of the bottled goods by that bush. You
can keep the kegs." The big man's eyes shifted to Casey Ryan's
expressionless profile and dwelt there curiously.
"Seems like I know you," he said abruptly. "Ain't you the guy
that was brought in with that Black Butte bunch of moonshiners
and got off on account of a nice wife and an L. A. alibi? Sure
you are! Casey Ryan. I got yuh placed now." He threw back his
head and laughed.
Casey might have been an Indian making a society call for all the
sign of life he gave. Young Kenner, having deposited his camp
outfit in a heap on the ground, began lifting out tall, round
bottles, four at a time and ricking them neatly beside the large
sagebush indicated by the officer.
Standing upon the running board at Casey's shoulder where he had
a clear view, the big man watched the unloading and at the same
time kept an eye on Casey. It was perfectly evident that for all
his easy good nature, he was not a man who could be talked out of
"All right, pile in your blankets," the big man ordered at last,
and young Kenner unemotionally began to reload the camp outfit.
The big man's attention shifted to Casey again. He looked at him
curiously and grinned.
"Say, that's a good one you pulled! You had all the county
officials bluffed into thinking you were the victim of that Black
Butte bunch, instead of being in cahoots. That alibi of yours
was a bird. Does Kenner, here, know you hit the hootch pretty
strong at times? Bootlegging's bad business for a man that laps
it up the way you do. Where's that piece of change, Kenner?"
"Aw, can't yuh find some way to leave me jack enough to buy gas
and grub?" Young Kenner asked sullenly, reaching into his
pocket. The big man shook his head.
"I'm doing a lot for you boys, when I let yuh get past me with
the Lizzie, to say nothing of half your load. I'd ought to
trundle yuh back to San Berdoo; you both know that as well as I
do. I'm too soft-hearted for this job, anyway. Hand over the
Young Kenner swore and extended his arm behind Casey. "That
leaves me six bits," he growled, as the big man dropped something
into his coat pocket. "You might give me back ten, anyway."
"Couldn't possibly. I have to have something to square myself
with if this leaks out. Just back up, till you can get around my
car. Turn to the left where the sand ain't so deep and you ain't
likely to run over the booze."
With the big man still standing at his shoulder on the running
board, Casey Ryan did what he had rashly declared he never would
do; he backed the Ford, turned it to the left as he had been
commanded to do, and drove around the other car. It was bitter
work for Casey; but even he recognized the fact that the
"settin'" was not good that evening. Back in the road again, he
stopped when he was told to stop, and waited, with a surface calm
altogether strange to Casey, while the officer stepped off and
gave a bit of parting advice.
"Better keep right on going, boys. I'd hate to see yuh get in
trouble, so you'd better take this old road up ahead here.
That'll bring yuh out at Dagget and you'll miss Barstow
altogether. I just came from there; there's a hard gang hanging
around on the lookout for anything they can pick up. Don't get
caught again. On your way!"
Casey drove for half a mile still staring straight before him.
Then young Kenner laughed shortly.
"That's Smilin' Lou," he said. "He's a mean boy to monkey with.
Talk about road hawgs--he's one yuh can't outset!"
"So that's the kind uh game yuh asked me to set in on!" Casey
broke another long silence. He had felt in his bones that young
Kenner was watching him secretly, waiting for him to take his
stand for or against the proposition.
"I'd like to know who passed the word around amongst outlaws that
Casey Ryan is the only original easy mark left runnin' wild, an'
that he can be caught an' made a goat of any time it's handy!
Look at the crowd of folks bunched on that crossing this
afternoon! Why didn't yuh pick some one else for the goat? Outa
all them hundreds uh people, why'n hell did yuh have to go an'
pick on Casey Ryan? Ain't he had trouble enough tryin' to keep
"Naw! Casey Ryan's went an' blowed hisself to show tickets, an'
he's headed home, peaceful an' on time, so's he can shave an' put
on a clean collar an' slick up to please his wife an' take 'er to
the show! Nothin' agin the law in that! Not a damn' thing yuh
can haul 'im to jail fer! So YOU had to come along, loaded to
the guards with hootch--stall your Ford on the car track right
under m' nose, an' tell Casey Ryan to git in! Couldn't leave 'im
to go home peaceful to 'is wife--naw! You had t' haul 'im away
out here an' git 'im in wrong with a cop agin! That's a fine
game you're playin'! That's a DARNED fine game!"
"Sure, it is! It's better than the game you've been playing,"
young Kenner stated calmly. "Take your own story, for instance.
You've been dubbin' along, tryin' t' play the way the law tells
you to. An' the saps has been flockin' to yuh like a bunch uh
hornets--every bird tryin' t' sink his stinger in first. Ain't
"Keepin' the law has laid yuh in jail twice in the last month, by
your own tell. Why, a clown like you, that's aimin' t' keep the
law an' live honest, is the easiest mark in the world. Them's
the guys that do the most harm--they make graftin' so darned
easy! Them's the guys the saps lay for and dust off regular in
the shape of fines an' taxes an' the like uh that. Oncet in
awhile they'll snatch yuh fer somethin' yuh never done at all an'
lay yuh away fer a day or two, just t' keep yuh scared and easy
t' handle next time.
"Now, yuh take me, fer instance. I play agin' the law--an' I'm
cleanin' up right along, and have yet to take my morning sunlight
in streaks. I know as much about the inside of a jail as I know
about the White House--an' no more. I've hauled hootch all over
the country, an' I never yet was dusted off so hard by the law
that I didn't come through with a roll uh jack they'd overlooked.
"Take this highjackin' to-night, for instance. Look what Smilin'
Lou took off'n me! And yet," Kenner turned and grinned
impudently at Casey, "don't never think I didn't come out a long
jump ahead! I carry nothin' cheap; nothin' but good whisky an'
brandy that the liquor houses failed to declare when the world
went dry. Then there's real, honest-to-gosh European stuff run in
from Mexico; now you're in, Casey, I'll tell yuh the snap. When
I said easy money, I was in my right mind.
"You can count on highjackers leavin' yuh half your load; mebby a
little more, if yuh set purty. They don't aim t' force yuh out
uh the business. They grab what the traffic'll bear, an' let yuh
go on an make a profit so you'll stay.
"Now there's a card you can slip up your sleeve for this game.
Yuh load in the best stuff first--see? Anything real special you
wanta put in kegs with double sides an' ends which you fill with
moonshine. Yuh never can tell--they might wanta sample it.
Smilin' Lou did once--an' you notice to-night he left the kegs
be. So they get a good grade of whisky from the liquor houses.
And they pass up the best, imported stuff that can be got to-day.
We'll have regular customers for that; and you can gamble they'll
pay the price!" He laughed at some secret joke which he
straightway shared with Casey.
"You noticed I got my gas-tank behind--a twenty-gallon tank at
that. Well, what if I tell yuh that right under this front seat
there's a false bottom to the tool-box and under that--well,
suppose you're settin' on forty pints uh French champagne?
More'n all that, this cushion we're settin' on has got a
concealed pocket down both sides --for hop. So yuh see, Casey, a
man can make an honest livin' at this game, even if he's
highjacked every trip. Now you're in, I can show yuh all kinds
The muscles, along Casey's jaw had hardened until they looked
bunched. His eyes, fixed upon the winding trail in front of him,
were a pale, unwinking glitter.
"Who says I'm in? Yuh ain't heard Casey Ryan say it yet, have
yuh? Yuh better wait till Casey says he's in b'fore yuh bank on
'im too strong. Casey may be an easy mark--he may be the
officious goat pro tem of every darn' bootlegger an' moonshiner
an' every darn' cop that crosses his trail; but you can ask
anybody if Casey Ryan don't do 'is own decidin'!
"Before you go any further, young feller, I'll tell yuh just how
fur Casey's in your game--an' that's as fur as Barstow. When
Casey says he'll do a thing he comes purty near doin' it. I
ain't playin' no bootleg game, young feller; White Mule an' me
ain't an' never was trail pardners. Make me choose between
bootleggers an' cops, an' I'd have to flip a dollar on it. Only
fer Bill Masters bein' your friend, I dunno but what I'd take yuh
right back with me t' L. A. an' let yuh sleep in a jail
oncet--seein' you've never had the pleasure!"
The young man laughed imperturbably. "Flip that dollar for me,
Casey, to see whether I shoot yuh now an' dump yuh out in the
brush somewheres, or make yuh play the hootch game an' like it.
Why, you didn't think for one minute, did yuh, that I was takin'
any chance with you? Not a chance in the world! Go squeal to
the law--an' what would it get yuh?
"You was drivin' this car yourself when Smilin' Lou stopped us,
recollect. He had yuh placed as one of that Black Butte gang
quick as he lamped yuh. Yuh think Smilin' Lou is goin' to take a
chance? You was caught with the goods t'night, old-timer, an'
it's the second time inside a month. It'd be the third time you
an' the law has tangled. Why, you set there yourself an' told me
how you was practically run outa L. A., right this week. You set
still a minute and figure out about how many years they'd give
"How come Smilin' Lou overlooked cleanin' yuh of your roll when
he took mine, do yuh think? He was treatin' yuh white, an'
givin' yuh a chance to come back strong next time--that's why.
They got so much on yuh now after to-night, that he knows you got
just one chance to sidestep a stretch in the pen. That's to play
the game with pertection. Smilin' Lou never to my knowledge
throwed down a guy that come through on demand.
"Smilin' Lou stood there an' sized yuh up about the same as I
did, somethin' like this: 'Here Is Casey Ryan--a clown that's
safe anywhere in the desert States. He got honest prospector
wrote all over 'im. Why, if you boarded a street car the
conductor would be guessin', wild-eyed, how much gold dust it
takes to make a nickel, expectin' you to haul out your poke an'
look around fer the gold scales. Why, you could git by where a
town guy couldn't. You've got a rep a mile long as a fightin',
squareshootin' Irishman that's a drivin' fool an' knows the
desert like he knows ham-an'-eggs. Tie on some picks an' shovels
an' put you behind the wheel, and only the guys that are in the
know would ever get wise in a thousand years.
"Why, look what he said about you havin' 'em all bluffed in San
Berdoo! Grabbed you with a bunch uh moonshiners, and you fightin'
the saps harder'n any of 'em--and then, by heck, you slips the
noose an' leaves 'em thinkin' you're honest but unlucky.
"So you 'n' me is pardners till I say when. We'll clean up some
real jack together. Minin' ain't in it, no more, with hootch
runnin'--if yuh play it right. The good old White Mule goes
under the wire, old-timer, an' takes the money. Burros is
"Burros ain't any extincter than what you'll be when I git
through with yuh," gritted Casey savagely, shutting off the gas.
"Bill Masters can like it or not--I'm goin' to lick the livin'
tar outa you here an' now. When I'm through with yuh, if you're
able to wiggle the wheel, yuh can take your load uh hootch an' go
tahell! I'll hoof it down here to the next station on the
railroad an' ketch a ride back to L. A."
Kenner laughed. "An' what would I be doin', you poor nut? Set
here meek till yuh tell me to git out an' take a lickin'? Yuh
feel that gun proddin' yuh in the ribs, don't yuh? I can't help
wonderin' how your wife would feel towards you if you was found
with a hole drilled through your middle, an' a carload uh booze.
That'd jar the faith of the most believin' woman on earth. You
take this cut-off road up here an' drive till I tell yuh t' stop.
As you may know, a man can't be chickenhearted and peddle
hootch--an' I'm called an expert. So you think that over,
Casey--an' drive purty, see?"
Casey drove as "purty" as was possible with a six-shooter pressed
irritatingly against his lowest floating rib; but he did not
dwell upon the spectacle of himself found dead with a carload of
booze. He wished to heaven he hadn't let the Little Woman talk
him out of packing a gun, and waited for his chance.
Young Kenner was thoughtful, brooding through the hours of
darkness with his head slightly bent and his eyes, so far as
Casey could determine, fixed steadily on the uneven trail where
the headlights revealed every rut, every stone, every chuck-hole.
But Casey was not deceived by that quiescence. The revolver
barrel never once ceased its pressure against his side, and he
knew that young Kenner never for an instant forgot that he was
riding with Casey Ryan at the wheel, waiting for a chance to kill
By daylight, such was Casey's driving, they were well down the
highway which leads to Needles and on through Arizona. Casey was
just thinking that they would soon run out of gas, and that he
would then have a fighting chance, when he was startled almost
into believing that he had spoken his plan.
"I told you there's a twenty-gallon tank on this car; well, it
holds twenty-five. I've got a special carburetor that gives an
actual mileage of twenty-two miles to the gallon on ordinary
desert roads. I filled 'er till she run over at Victorville--and
I notice you're easy on the gas with your drivin'. Figure it
yourself, Casey, and don't be countin' on a stop till I'm ready
Casey grunted, more crestfallen than he would ever admit. But he
hadn't given up; the give-up quality had been completely
forgotten when Casey's personality was being put together. He
drove on, around the rubbly base of a blackened volcano long
since cold and bleak, and bored his way through the sandy stretch
that leads through Patmos.
Patmos was a place of unhappy memories, but he drove through the
little hamlet so fast that he scarcely thought of his unpleasant
sojourn there the summer before. Young Kenner had fallen silent
again and they drove the sixty miles or so to Goffs with not a
word spoken between them.
Casey spent most of that time in mentally cursing the Ford for
its efficiency. He had prayed for blowouts, a fouled timer, for
something or anything or everything to happen that could possibly
befall a Ford. He couldn't even make the radiator boil. Worst
and most persistent of his discomforts was the hard pressure of
that six-shooter against his side. Casey was positive that the
imprint of it would be worn as a permanent brand upon his person
for the rest of his life. Young Kenner's voice speaking to him
came so abruptly that Casey jumped.
"I've been thinking over your case," Kenner said cheerfully.
"Stop right here while we talk it over."
Casey stopped right there.
"I've changed my mind about havin' you for a pardner," young
Kenner went on. "You'd be a valuable man all right; but when a
harp like you gets stubborn-bitter, my hunch tells me to break
away clean. You're a mick--an' micks is all alike when they git a
grudge. I can't be bothered keepin' yuh under my eye all the
time, and the way I've felt yuh oozin' venom all this while shows
me I'd have to. An' bumpin' yuh off would be neither pleasant ner
"Now, the way I've doped this out, I'm goin' to sell yuh the
outfit fer just what jack yuh got in your clothes. Fork it over,
an' I'll give yuh the layout just as she stands."
"Yuh better wait till Casey says he wants t' buy!" Swallowing
resentment all night had made his voice husky; and it was bitter
indeed to sit still and hear himself called a harp and a mick.
"Why wait? Hand over the roll, and that closes the deal. I
didn't ask yuh would yuh buy--I'm givin' yuh somethin' fer your
money, is all. I could take it off yuh after yuh quit kickin'
and drive your remains in to this little burg, with a tale of how
I'd caught a bootlegger that resisted arrest. So fork over the
jack, old-timer. I want to catch that train over there that's
about ready to pull out." He prodded sharply with the gun, and
Casey heard a click which needed no explanation.
Casey fumbled for a minute inside his vest and glumly "forked
over." Young Kenner inspected the folded bank notes, smiled and
slipped the flat bundle inside his shirt.
"You're stronger on the bank roll than what yuh let on," he
remarked contentedly. "I don't stand to lose so much, after all.
Sixteen hundred, I make it. What's in your pants pockets?"
Casey, still balefully silent, emptied first one pocket and then
the other into Kenner's cupped palm. With heavy sarcasm he felt
in his watch pocket and produced a nickel slipped there after
paying street-car fare. He held it out to young Kenner between
his finger and thumb, still gazing straight before him.
Young Kenner took it and grinned. "Oh, well--you're rich! Drive
on now, and when you get about even with that caboose, slow to
twelve miles whilst I hop off; and then hit 'er up again an' keep
'er goin'. If yuh don't, I'll grab yuh fer a bootlegger, sure.
And I'd have the hull train crew to help me wrassle yuh down.
They'd be willin' to sample the evidence, I guess, an' be
witnesses against yuh. An' bear in mind, Casey, that yuh got a
darned good Ford and all its valuable contents for sixteen
hundred and some odd bucks. If you meet up with the law, you can
treat 'em white an' still break even on the deal yuh just
consummated with me."
"Like hell I consummated the deal!" Casey was goaded into
He drove abreast of the caboose, and at a final prod in the ribs
Casey slowed down. Young Kenner dropped off the running board,
alighted running with his body slanted backwards and his lips
"Don't take any bad money--an' don't let 'em catch yuh!" he cried
mockingly, as he headed for the caboose.
At a crossing, two miles farther on, Casey came larruping out of
the sand hills and was forced to wait while the freight train
went rattling past, headed east on a downhill grade.
Young Kenner, up in the cupola, leaned far out and waved his hat
as the caboose flicked by.
The highway north from the Santa Fe Railroad just west of Needles
climbs an imperceptible grade across barren land to where the
mesa changes and becomes potentially fertile. Up this road,
going north, a cloud of yellow dust rolled swiftly. See at close
range, the nose of a dingy Ford protruded slightly in front of
the enveloping cloud --and behind it Casey Ryan, hard-eyed and
with his jaw set to the fighting mood, gripped the wheel and
drove as if he had a grudge against the road.
At the first signpost Casey canted a malevolent eye upward and
went lurching by at top speed. The car bulked black for a
moment, dimmed, and merged into the fleeing cloud that presently
seemed no more than a dust-devil whirling across the mesa. At
the second signpost Casey slowed, his eyes dwelling speculatively
upon the legend:
"JUNIPER WELLS 3 M"
The arrow pointed to the right where a narrow, little-used trail
angled crookedly away through the greasewood. Casey gave a
deciding twist to the steering wheel and turned into the trail.
Juniper Wells is not nearly so nice a place as it sounds. But it
is the first water north of the Santa Fe, and now and then a
wayfarer of the desert leaves the main highway and turns that
way, driven by necessity. It is a secluded spot, too
unattractive to tempt people to linger; because of its very
seclusion it therefore tempted Casey Ryan.
When a man has driven a Ford fifteen hours without once leaving
the wheel or taking a drink of water or a mouthful of food,
however great his trouble or his haste, his first thought will be
of water, food and rest. Even Casey's deadly rage at the
diabolical trick played upon him could not hold his thoughts from
dwelling upon bacon and coffee and a good sleep afterwards.
Wind and rain and more wind, buffeting that trail since the last
car had passed, made "heavy going." The Ford labored up small
hills and across gullies, dipping downward at last to Juniper
Wells; there Casey stopped close beside the blackened embers left
by some forgotten traveler of the wild. He slid stiffly from
behind the wheel to the vacant seat beside him, and climbed out
like the old man he had last night determined never to become.
He walked away a few paces, turned and stood glaring back at the
car as if familiarizing himself with an object little known and
Fate, he felt, had played a shabby trick upon an honest man.
Here he stood, a criminal in the eyes of the law, a liar in the
eyes of the missus. An honest man and a truthful, here he
was--he, Casey Ryan--actually afraid to face his fellow men.
"HE wasn't no friend of Bill Masters; the divil himself wouldn'ta
owned him fer a friend!" snarled Casey, thinking of Kenner.
"Me-- CASEY RYAN!--with a load uh booze wished onto me--and a car
that may have been stolen fer all I know--an' not a darn' nickel
to my name! They can make a goat uh Casey Ryan once, but watch
clost when they try it the second time! Casey MAY be gittin'
old; he might possibly have softenin' of the brain; but he'll git
the skunk that done this, or you'll find his carcass layin'
alongside the trail bleachin' like a blowed-out tire! I'll trail
'im till my tongue hangs down to my knees! I'll git 'im an' I'll
drown 'im face down in a bucket of his own booze!" Whipped by
emotion, his voice rose stridently until it cracked just under a
"That sounds pretty businesslike, old man," a strange voice spoke
whimsically behind Casey. "Who's all this you're going to trail
till your tongue hangs down to your knees? Going to need any
Casey whirled belligerently upon the man who had walked quietly
up behind him.
"Where the hell did YOU come from?" he countered roughly.
"Does it matter? I'm here," the other parried blandly. "But by
the way! If you've got the makings of a meal in your car--and
you look too old a hand in the desert to be without grub--I won't
refuse to have a snack with you. I hate to invite myself to
breakfast, but it's that or go hungry--and an empty belly won't
stand on ceremony."
The hard-bitten features of Casey Ryan, tanned as they were by
wind and sun to a fair imitation of leather, were never meant to
portray mixed emotions. His face, therefore, remained impassive
except for a queer, cornered look in his eyes. With a sick
feeling at the pit of his stomach he wondered just how much of
his impassioned soliloquy the man had overheard; who and what
this man was, and how he had managed to approach within six feet
of Casey without being overheard. With a sicker feeling, he
wondered if there were any grub in the car; and if so, how he
could get at it without revealing his contraband load to this
But Casey Ryan was nothing if not game. He reached for his
trusty plug of tobacco and pried off a corner with his teeth. He
lifted his left hand mechanically to the back of his head and
pushed his black felt hat forward so that it rested over his
right eyebrow at a devil-may-care angle. These preparations made
involuntarily and unconsciously, Casey Ryan was himself again.
"All right--if you're willin' to rustle the wood an' start a
fire, I'll see if I can dig up somethin'." He cocked an eye up
at the sun. "I et my breakfast long enough ago so I guess it's
settled. I reckon mebby I c'd take on some bacon an' coffee
myself. Feller I had along with me I ditched, back here at the
railroad. He done the packin' up--an' I'd hate to swear to what
he put in an' what he left out. Onery cuss--I wouldn't put
nothin' past him. But mebby we can make out a meal."
The stranger seemed perfectly satisfied with this arrangement and
studied preamble. He started off to gather dead branches of
greasewood; and Casey, having prepared the way for possible
disappointment, turned toward the car.
Fear and Casey Ryan have ever been strangers; yet he was
conscious of a distinct, prickly chill down his spine. The
glance he cast over his shoulder at the stranger betrayed
uneasiness, best he could do. He turned over the roll of bedding
and cautiously began a superficial search which he hoped would
reveal grub in plenty-- without revealing anything else. He
wished now that he had taken a look over his shoulder when young
Kenner was unloading the car at Smiling Lou's command. He would
be better prepared now for possible emergencies. He remembered,
with a bit of comfort, that the bootlegger had piled a good deal
of stuff upon the ground before Casey first heard the clink of
A grunt of relief signaled his location of a box containing grub.
A moment later he lifted out a gunny sack bulging unevenly with
cooking utensils. He fished a little deeper, turned back a
folded tarp and laid naked to his eyes the top of a whisky keg.
With a grunt of consternation he hastily replaced the tarp, his
heart flopping in his chest like a fresh-landed fish.
The stranger was kneeling beside a faintly crackling little pile
of twigs, his face turned inquiringly toward, Casey. Casey,
glancing guiltily over his shoulder, felt the chill hand of
discovery reaching for his very soul. It was as if a dead man
were hidden away beneath that tarp. It seemed to him that the
eyes of the stranger were sharp, suspicious eyes, and that they
dwelt upon him altogether too attentively for a perfectly
justifiable interest even in the box of grub.
Black coffee, drunk hot and strong, gave the world a brighter
aspect. Casey decided that the situation was not so desperate,
after all. Easy enough to bluff it out--easiest thing in the
world! He would just go along as if there wasn't a thing on his
mind heavier than his thinning, sandy hair. No man living had
any right or business snooping around in his car, unless he
carried a badge of an officer of the law. Even with the badge,
Casey told himself sternly, a man would have to show a warrant
before he could touch a finger to his outfit.
Over his third cup of coffee Casey eyed the stranger guardedly.
He did not look like an officer. He was not big and burly, with
arrogant eyes and the hint of leashed authority in his tone.
Instead, he was of medium height, owned a pair of shrewd gray
eyes and an easy drawl, and was dressed in the half military
style so popular with mining men, surveyors and others who can
afford to choose what garb they will adopt for outdoor living.
He had shown a perfect familiarity with cooking over a campfire,
and had fried the bacon in a manner which even Casey could not
criticize. Before the coffee was boiled he had told Casey that
his name was Mack Nolan. Immediately afterward he had grinned
and added the superfluous information that he was Irish and
didn't care who knew it.
"Well, I'm Irish, meself," Casey returned approvingly and with
more than his usual brogue. "You can ask anybody if Casey Ryan
has ever showed shame fer the blood that's in' 'im. 'Tis the
Irish that never backs up from a rough trail or a fight." He
poured a fourth cup of coffee into a chipped enamel cup and took
his courage in his two hands. Mack Nolan, he assured himself
optimistically, couldn't possibly know what lay hidden under the
camp outfit in the Ford. Until he did know, he was harmless as
anybody, so long as Casey kept an eye on him.