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The Trail of the White Mule by B. M. Bower

Part 4 out of 4

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which she did. Not even the Little Woman should ever attempt to
drive across the Mojave alone.

We started out as soon as we had finished the meal. A Cadillac
roadster came up behind us and honked for clear passing as we
swung into the long, straight stretch that leads up the Cajon.
The Little Woman peered into the rear vision mirror and pressed
the toe of her white pump upon the accelerator.

"There's only one man in the world that can pass ME on the road,"
the Little Woman drawled, "and he doesn't wear a panama!"

As we snapped around the turns of Cajon Grade, I looked back once
or twice. The Cadillac roadster was still following
pertinaciously, but it was too far back to honk at us. When we
slid down to the Victorville garage and stopped for gas, the
Cadillac slid by. The driver in the panama gave us one glance
through his colored glasses, but I felt, somehow, that the glance
was sufficiently comprehensive to fix us firmly in his memory. I
inquired at the garage concerning Casey Ryan, taking it for
granted he would be driving a Ford. A man of that description
had stopped at the garage for gas that forenoon, the boy told me.
About nine o'clock, I learned from further questioning.

"Well-sir, that gives him five hours the start," the Little Woman
remarked, as she eased in the clutch and slid around the corner
into the highway to Barstow. "But you can't tell me I can't run
down a Ford with this car. I know to the last inch what a Jawn
Henry is good for. I drove one myself, remember. Now we'll


At Dagget, the big, blue car with a lady driver sounded the
warning signal and passed Mack Nolan and the Cadillac roadster.
Like Casey Ryan, Nolan is rather proud of his driving, and with
sufficient reason. He was already hurrying, not to overhaul
Casey, but to arrive soon after him.

Women drivers loved to pass other cars with a sudden spurt of
speed, he had found by experience. They were not, however,
consistently fast drivers. Mack Nolan was conscious of a slight
irritation when the twin-six took the lead. Somewhere
ahead--probably in one of the rough, sandy stretches--he would
either have to pass that car or lag behind. Your expert driver
likes a clear road ahead.

So Mack Nolan drove a bit harder, and succeeded in getting most
of the dust kicked up by the big, blue car. He counted on
passing before they reached Ludlow, but he could never quite make
it. In that ungodly stretch of sand and rocks and chuck-holes
that lies between Ludlow and Amboy, Nolan was sure that the woman
driver would have to slow down. He swore a little, too, because
she would probably slow down just where passing was impossible.
They always did.

They went through Amboy like one party, the big, blue car leading
by twenty-five yards. It was a long drive for a woman to make; a
hard drive to boot. He wondered if the two in the big car ever

Five miles east of Amboy, when a red sunset was darkening to
starlight, the blue car, fifty yards in the lead, overhauled a
Ford in trouble. In the loose, sandy trail the big car slowed
and stopped abreast of the Ford. There was no passing now,
unless Mack Nolan wanted to risk smashing his crank-case on a
lava rock, millions of which peppered that particular portion of
the Mojave Desert. He stopped perforce.

A pair of feet with legs attached to them, protruded from beneath
the running board of the Ford. The Little Woman in the big car
leaned over the side and studied the feet critically.

"Casey Ryan, are those the best pair of shoes you own?" she
drawled at last. "If you wouldn't wear such rundown heels, you
know, you wouldn't look so bow-legged. I've told you and TOLD
you that your legs aren't so bad when you wear straight heels."

Casey Ryan crawled out and looked up at her grinning sheepishly.

"They was all right when I left home, ma'am," he defended his
shoes mildly. "Desert plays hell with shoe leather--you can ask
anybody." Then he added, "Hullo, Jack! What you two think you're
doin', anyway. Tryin' t' elope?"

"Why, hello, Ryan!" Mack Nolan greeted, coming up from the
Cadillac. "Having trouble with your car?" Casey whirled and eyed
Nolan dubiously.

"Naw. This ain't no trouble," he granted. "I only been here four
hours or so--this is pastime!"

There was an awkward silence. We in the blue car wanted to know
(not at that time knowing) who was the man in the Cadillac
roadster, and how he happened to know Casey so well. Nolan, no
doubt, wanted to know who we were. And there was so much that
Casey wanted to know and needed to know that he couldn't seem to
think of anything. However, Casey was the hardest to down. He
came up to the side of the blue car, reached in with his hands
all greasy black, and took the Little Woman's hand from the wheel
and kissed it. The Little Woman made a caressing sound and
leaned out to him--and Nolan and I felt that we mustn't look. So
our eyes met.

He came around to my side of the car and put out his hand.

"I'm pretty good at guessing," he smiled. "I guess you're Jack
Gleason. Casey has talked of you to me. I'm right glad to meet
you, too. My name is Mack Nolan, and I'm Irish. I'm Casey
Ryan's partner. We have a good--prospect."

Casey looked past the Little Woman and me, straight into Mack
Nolan's eyes. I felt something of an electric quality in the air
while their gaze held.

"I'm just getting back from a trip down in the valley," Nolan
observed easily. "You never did see me in town duds, did you,
Casey?" His eyes went to the Little Woman's face and then to me.
"I suppose you know what this wild Irishman has just pulled off
back there," he said, tilting his head toward San Bernardino,
many a mile away to the southwest. "You wouldn't think it to
look at him, but he surely has thrown a monkey wrench into as
pretty a bootlegging machine as there is in the country. It's
such confidential stuff, of course, that you may call it
absolutely secret. But for once I'm telling the truth about it.

"Your husband, Mrs. Casey Ryan, holds a commission from
headquarters as a prohibition officer. A deputy, it is
true,--but commissioned nevertheless. He's just getting back
from a very pretty piece of work. A crooked officer named
Smiling Lou was arrested last night. He had all kinds of liquor
cached away in his house. Casey can tell you sometime how he
trapped him.

"Of course, I'm just an amateur mining expert on a vacation,
myself." His eyes met Casey's straight. "I wasn't with him when
he pulled the deal, but I heard about it afterwards, and I knew
he was planning something of the sort when he left camp. How I
happened to know about the commission," he added, reaching into
his pocket, "is because he left it with me for safe keeping. I'm
going to let you look at it-- just in case he's too proud to let
it out of his hands once I give it back.

"Now, of course, I'm talking like an old woman and telling all
Casey's secrets--and you'll probably see a real Irish fight when
he gets in reach of me. But I knew he hadn't told you exactly
what he's doing, and--I personally feel that his wife and his
best friend are entitled to know as much as his partner knows
about him."

The Little Woman nodded absently her thanks. She was holding
Casey's commission under the dash-light to read it.

I saw Casey gulp once or twice while he stared across the car at
Mack Nolan. He pushed his dusty, black hat forward over one
eyebrow and reached into his pocket.

"Aw, hell," he grunted, grinning queerly. "You come around here
oncet, Mr. Nolan, where I can git my hands on yuh!"

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