During the companionable smoke that followed breakfast, Casey learned that Mack Nolan had spent some time in Nevada, ambling through the hills, examining the geologic formation of the country with a view to possible future prospecting in districts yet undeveloped.
“The mineral possibilities of Nevada haven’t been more than scratched,” Mack Nolan observed, lying back with one arm thrown up under his head as a makeshift pillow and the other hand negligently attending to the cigarette he was smoking. His gray army hat was tilted over his eyes, shielding them from the sun while they dwelt rather studiously upon the face of Casey Ryan.
“Every spring I like to get out and poke around through these hills where folks as a rule don’t go. Never did much prospecting–as such. Don’t take kindly enough to a pick and shovel for that. What I like best is general field work. If I run across something rich, time enough then to locate a claim or two and hire a couple of strong backs to do the digging.
“I’ve been out now for about three weeks; and night before last, just as I stopped to make camp and before I’d started to unpack, my two mules got scared at a rattler and quit the country. Left me flat, without a thing but my clothes and six-shooter, and what I had in my pockets.” He lifted the cigarette from between his lips–thin, they were, and curved and rather pitiless, one could guess, if the man were sufficiently roused.
“I wasted all yesterday trying to trail ’em. But you can’t do much tracking in these rocks back here toward the river. I was hitting for the highway to catch a ride if I could, when I saw you topping this last ridge over here. Don’t blame me much for bumming a breakfast, do you?” And he added, with a sigh of deep physical content, “It sure-lee was some feed!”
His lids drooped lower as if sleep were overtaking him in spite of himself. “I’d ask yuh if you’d seen anything of those mules– only I don’t give a damn now. I wish this was night instead of noon; I could sleep the clock around after that bacon and bannock of yours. Haven’t a care in the world,” he murmured drowsily. “Happy as a toad in the sun, first warm day of spring. How soon you going to crank up?”
Casey stared at him unwinkingly through narrowed lids. He pushed his hat forward with a sharp tilt over his eyebrow–which meant always that Casey Ryan had just 0. K.’d an idea–and reached for his chewing tobacco.
“Go ahead an’ take a nap if yuh want to,” he urged. “I got some tinkerin’ to do on the Ford, an’ I was aimin’ to lay over here an’ do it. I’m kinda lookin’ around, myself, for a likely prospect; I got all the time there is. I guess I’ll back the car down the draw a piece where she’ll set level, an’ clean up ‘er dingbats whilst you take a sleep.”
Casey left the breakfast things where they were, as a silent reassurance to Mack Nolan that the car would not go off without him. It was a fine, psychological detail of which Casey was secretly rather proud. A box of grub, a smoked coffee pot and dirty breakfast dishes left beside a dead campfire establishes evidence, admissible before any jury, that the owner means to return.
Casey went over and cranked the Ford, grimly determined to make the coffee pot lie for him if necessary. He backed the car down the draw a good seventy-five yards, to where a wrinkle in the bank hid him from the breakfast camp. He stopped there and left the engine running while he straddled out over the side and went forward to the dip of the front fender to see if the Ford were still visible to Mack Nolan. He was glad to find that by crouching and sighting across the fender he could just see the campfire and the top of Nolan’s hat beyond it. The man need only lift his head off his arm to see that the Ford was standing just around the turn of the draw.
“The corner was never yet so tight that Casey Ryan couldn’t find a crack somewhere to crawl through,” he told himself vaingloriously. “An’ I hope to thunder the feller sleeps long an’ sleeps solid!”
For fifteen minutes the mind of Casey Ryan was at ease. He had found a shovel in the car, placed conveniently at the side where it could be used for just such an emergency as this. For fifteen minutes he had been using that shovel in a shelving bank of loose gravel just under an outcropping of rhyolite a rod or so behind the car and well out of sight of Nolan.
He was beginning to consider his excavation almost deep enough to bury two ten-gallon kegs and forty bottles of whisky, when the shadow of a head and shoulders fell across the hole. Casey did not lift the dirt and rocks he had on his shovel. He froze to a tense quiet, goggling at the shadow.
“What are yuh doing, Casey? Trying to outdig a badger?” Mack Nolan’s chuckle was friendliness itself.
Casey’s head snapped around so that he could cock an eye up at Nolan. He grinned mechanically. “Naw. Picked up a rich-lookin’ piece uh float. Thought I’d just see if it didn’t mebby come from this ledge.”
Mack Nolan stepped forward interestedly and looked at the ledge.
“Where’s the piece you found?” he very naturally inquired. “The formation just here wouldn’t lead me to expect gold-bearing rock; but of course, anything is possible with gold. Let’s have a look at the specimen.”
Casey had once tried to bluff a stranger with two deuces and a pair of fives, and two full stacks of blue chips pushed to the center to back the bluff. The stranger had called him, with three queens and a pair of jacks. Casey felt like that now.
He had laughed over his loss then, and he grinned now and reached carelessly to the bank beside him as if he fully expected to lay his hand on the specimen of gold-bearing rock. He went so far as to utter a surprised oath when he failed to find it. He felt in his pockets. He went forward and scanned the top of the ledge almost convincingly. He turned and stood a-straddle, his hands on his hips, and gazed on the pile of dirt he had thrown out of the hole. Last, he pushed his hat back so that with the next movement he could push it forward again over his eyebrow.
“Now if that there lump uh high-grade ain’t went an’ slid down the bank an’ got covered up with the muck!” he exclaimed disgustedly. “I’m a son of a gun if Fate ain’t playin’ agin’ Casey Ryan with a flock uh aces under its vest!”
Mack Nolan laughed, and Casey slanted a look his way. “Thought I left you takin, a nap,” he said brazenly. “What’s the matter? Didn’t your breakfast set good?”
Mack Nolan laughed again. It was evident that he found Casey Ryan very amusing.
“The breakfast was fine,” he replied easily. “A couple of lizards got to playing tag over me. That woke me up, and the sun was so hot I just thought I’d come down and crawl into the car and go to sleep there. Go ahead with your prospecting, Casey–I won’t bother you.”
Casey went on with his digging, but his heart was not in it. With every laggard shovelful of dirt, he glanced over his shoulder apprehensively, watching Mack Nolan crawl into the back of the car and settle himself, with an audible sigh of satisfaction, on top of the load. He had one wild, wicked impulse to lengthen the hole and make it serve as a grave for more than bootleg whisky; but it was an impulse born of desperation, and it died almost before it had lived.
Casey left his digging and returned to the Ford, still determined to carry on the bluff and pretend that much tinkering was necessary before he could travel further. With a great show of industry he rummaged for pliers and wrenches, removed the hood from the motor and squinted down at the little engine.
By that time Mack Nolan was snoring softly in deep slumber. Casey listened suspiciously, knowing too well how misleading a snore could be. But his own eyelids were growing exceeding heavy, and the soporific sound acted hypnotically upon his sleep-hungry brain. He caught himself yawning, and suddenly threw down the wrench.
“Aw, hell!” he muttered disgustedly, and went and crawled under the back of the car where it was shady.
The sun was nearly down when Casey awoke and crawled out. Mack Nolan was still curled comfortably in the car, his back against the bed roll. He opened his eyes and yawned when Casey leaned and looked in upon him.
“By Jove, that was a fine sleep I had,” he announced cheerfully, lifting himself up and dangling his legs outside the car. “Strike anything yet?”
“Naw.” Casey’s grunt was eloquent of the mood he was in.
“Get the car fixed all right?” Mack Nolan’s cheerfulness seemed nothing less than diabolical to Casey.
“Naw.” Then Casey added grimly, “I’m stuck. I dunno what ails the damned thing. Have to send to Vegas fer new parts, I guess. It’s only three miles out here to the road. Mebby you better hike over to the highway an’ ketch a ride with somebody. I might send in for a timer an’ some things, too. No use waitin’ fer me, Nolan– can’t tell how long I’ll be held up here.”
Mack Nolan climbed out of the car. Casey’s spirits rose instantly. Nolan came forward and looked down at the engine as casually as he would glance at a nickel alarm clock.
“She was hitting all right when you backed down here,” Nolan remarked easily. “I’ll just take a look at her myself. Fords are cranky sometimes. But I’ve assembled too many of them in the factory to let one get the best of me in the desert.”
Casey could almost hear his heart when it slumped down into his boots. But he wasn’t licked yet.
“Aw, let the darned thing alone till we eat,” he said, pushing his hat forward to hurry his wits.
“Well–I can throw a Ford together in the dark, if necessary,” smiled Mack Nolan. “Eat, it is, if you want it that way. That breakfast I put away seems to have sharpened my appetite for supper. Tell you what, Ryan. I’ll do a little trouble-shooting here while you cook supper. How’ll that be?”
That wouldn’t be, if Casey could prevent it. His pale, narrow-lidded eyes dwelt upon Nolan unwinkingly.
“Well, mebby I’m kind of a crank about my car,” he hedged, with a praiseworthy calmness. “Fords is like horses, to me. I drove stage all m’ life till I took to prospectin’–an’ I never could stand around and let anybody else monkey with my teams. I ain’t a doubt in the world, Mr. Nolan, but what you know as much about Fords as I do. More, mebby. But Casey Ryan’s got ‘is little ways, an’ he can’t seem to ditch ’em. We’ll eat; an’ then mebby we’ll look ‘er over together.
“At the same time,” he went on with rising courage, “I’m liable to stick around here for awhile an’ prospect a little. If you wanta find them mules an’ outfit, don’t bank too strong on Casey Ryan. He’s liable to change ‘is mind any old time. Day or night, you can’t tell what Casey might take a notion to do. That there’s a fact. You can ask anybody if it ain’t.”
Mack Nolan laughed and slapped Casey unexpectedly on the shoulder. “You’re a man after my own heart, Casey Ryan,” he declared enigmatically. “I’ll stick to you and take a chance. Darn the mules! Somebody will find them and look after them until I show up.”
Casey’s spirits, as he admitted to himself, were rising and falling like the hammer of a pile driver; and like the pile driver, the hammer was driving him deeper and deeper into hopelessness. He would have given an ear to know for certain whether Mack Nolan were as innocent and friendly as he seemed. Until he did know, Casey could see nothing before him but to wait his chance to give Nolan the slip.
Sitting cross-legged in the glow of the campfire after supper, with a huge pattern of stars drawn over the purple night sky, Casey pulled out the old pipe with which he had solaced many an evening and stuffed it thoughtfully with tobacco. Across the campfire, Mack Nolan sat with his hat tilted down over his eyes, smoking a cigarette and seeming at peace with all the world.
Casey hoped that Nolan would forget about fixing the Ford. He hoped that Nolan would sleep well to-night. Casey was perfectly willing to sacrifice a good roll of bedding and the cooking outfit for the privilege of traveling alone. No man, he told himself savagely, could ask a better deal than he was prepared to give Nolan. He bent to reach a burning twig for his pipe, and found Nolan watching him steadily from under his hat brim.
“What sort of looking fellows were those, Ryan, that left a load of booze on your hands?” Nolan asked casually when he saw that he was observed.
Casey burned his fingers with the blazing twig. “Who said anything about any fellers leavin’ me booze?” he evaded sharply. “If it’s a drink you’re hintin’ for, you won’t get it. Casey Ryan ain’t no booze peddler, an’ now’s as good a time as any to let that soak into your system.”
Mack Nolan’s gray eyes were still watching Casey with a steadfastness that was disconcerting to a man in Casey’s dilemma.
“It might help us both considerably,” he said quietly, “if you told me all about it. You can’t cache that booze you’ve got in the car– I won’t let you, for one thing; for another, that would be merely dodging the issue, and if you’ll forgive my frankness, dodging doesn’t seem to be quite in your line.”
Casey puffed hard on his pipe. “The world’s gittin’ so darned full uh crooks, a man can’t turn around now’days without bumpin’ into a few!” he exploded bitterly. “What kind uh hold-up game YOU playin’, Mr. Nolan? If that’s your name,” he added fiercely.
Mack Nolan laughed to himself and rubbed the ash from his cigarette against the sole of his shoe. “Why,” he answered genially, “my game is holding up bootleggers–and crooked cops. Speaking off-hand (which I don’t often do) I should say you have a fine chance to sit in with me. I’m just guessing, now,” he added dryly, “but I’m tolerably good at guessing; a man’s got to be, these days.”
“A man’s got to do better than guess–with Casey Ryan,” Casey remarked ominously. “The last man that guessed Casey Ryan, guessed ‘im plumb wrong.”
“Meaning that you’d refuse to help me round up bootleggers and the officers that protect them?” A steel edge crept into Mack Nolan’s voice. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees, his eyes boring into Casey’s mind.
“Man, don’t stall with me! You’ve got brains enough to know that if I were a crook I’d have held you up long before now. You gave me three splendid opportunities to stick a gun in your back–and I could have made others. And,” he added with a smile, “if I had thought that you were a bootlegger or a crook of any other kind, I’d have had you in Las Vegas jail by this time. You’re no more a crook than I am. You’ve got neither the looks nor the actions of a slicker. I may say I know you pretty well–“
Casey thrust out a pugnacious chin. “Say! D’ you know Bill Masters, too? That’s all I wanta know!”
“Bill Masters? Why, is he the fellow who stepped out from under this load of hootch? If he is, he must have picked himself a new name; I never heard it.”
Casey glared suspiciously for twenty seconds before he settled back glumly into his mental corner.
“Ryan, I’ve been all day sizing you up. I’m going to be perfectly honest with you and tell you why I think you’re straight–although you must admit the evidence is rather against you.
“I happened to be right close when you drove down in here and stopped. As a matter of fact, I was behind that little clump of junipers. Had you driven around them instead of stopping this side, you couldn’t have failed to see me.
“You came down here mad at the trick that had been played you. You were so mad, you started talking to yourself as a safety valve –blowing off mental steam. You’ve spent a lot of time in the desert –alone. Men like that frequently talk aloud their thoughts, just to hear a human voice. You made matters pretty plain to me before you knew there was any one within miles of you. For instance, you’re not at all sure this car you’ve got wasn’t stolen. You’re inclined to think it was. You’re broke–robbed, I take it, by the men who somehow managed to leave you with the car and a load of booze on your hands. The trick must have been turned this morning; down at the railroad, I imagine–because you hadn’t taken time to stop and size up the predicament you were in until you got here.
“Your main idea was to get off somewhere out of sight. You were scared. You didn’t hear me behind you until I spoke–which proves you’re a green hand at dodging. And that, Ryan, is a very good recommendation to a man in my line of work. But you’re shrewd, and you’re game– dead game. You’re a peach at thinking up schemes to get yourself out of a hole. Of course, being new at it, you don’t think quite far enough. For instance, because you found me afoot it never occurred to you that I might know something about a car; but the rest of your plan was a dandy.
“Your idea of backing down there around the turn and burying the booze was all right. With almost any other man it would have worked. Once you got that hootch off your mind, I rather think you’d have been glad to have me along with you, instead of giving me broad hints to leave. But you haven’t got the booze buried yet, and you’ve been figuring all the evening. You don’t see how the devil you’re going to manage it with me around.
“I’ll do a little more guessing, now: I guess you’ve doped it out that you’ll pack the bedroll up here, tuck me in and pray to the Lord I’ll sleep sound. You’re hoping you can cache the booze and make your getaway while I’ve gone bye-low. Or possibly, if you got the booze put away safe from my prying eyes, you might come back to bed and I’d find you here in the morning just as if nothing had happened. How Is that for guesswork?”
“You go tahell!” growled Casey, swallowing a sickly grin. He pressed down the tobacco in his pipe, eyeing Nolan queerly. “If them damn’ lizards had uh let yuh alone, I wouldn’t have nothin’ on m’ mind now but my hat.” He looked across the fire and grinned again.
“Keep on; you’ll be tellin’ me what the missus an’ I was arguin’ about last night over long-distance. I’ve heard tell uh this four-bit mind reading an’ forecastin’ your horrorscope fer a dime; but I never met up with it before. If you’re aimin’ to take up a collection after the show, you’ll fare slim. I’ve been what a feller called ‘dusted off’.” He added, after a pause that was eloquent, “They done it thorough!”
Mack Nolan laughed. “They usually are thorough, when they’re ‘dusting off a chump’, as I believe they call it.”
Casey grunted. “‘Chump’ is right, mebby. But anyways, you’re too late, Mr. Nolan. I’m cleaned.”
Mack Nolan rolled another cigarette, lighted it and flipped the match into the campfire. He smoked it down to the last inch, staring into the fire and saying nothing the while. When the cigarette stub followed the match, he leaned back upon one elbow and began tracing a geometrical figure in the sand with a stick.
“Ryan,” he said abruptly, “you’re square and I know it. The very nature of my business makes me cautious about trusting men–but I’m going to trust you.” He stopped again, taking great pains with the point of a triangle he was drawing.
Casey knocked the ashes out of his pipe against a rock. “Puttin’ it that way, Mr. Nolan, the man’s yet to live that Casey Ryan ever double-crossed. Cops I got no use for; nor yet bootleggers. Whether I got any use for you, Mr. Nolan, I can say better when I’ve heard yuh out. A goat I’ve been for the last time. But I’m willin’ to HEAR yuh out–and that there’s more’n what I’d uh said this morning.”
“And that’s fair enough, Ryan. If you jumped into things with your eyes shut, I don’t think I’d want you with me.”
Casey squirmed, remembering certain times when he had gone too headlong into things.
“I’m going to ask you, Ryan, to tell me the whole story of this car and its load of whisky. Before you do that, I’ll tell you this much to show good faith and prove to you how much I trust you: I’m an officer, and my special work right now is to clean up a gang of bootleggers and the crooked officers who are protecting them. What I know about your case leads me to believe that you’ve run afoul of them and that you’re the man I’ve been looking for that can help me set a trap for them. Would you like to do that?”
“If it’s that bunch you’re after, Mr. Nolan, I’d ruther land ’em in jail than to find a ledge of solid gold ten feet thick an’ a mile long. One thing I’d like to know first. Are yuh or ain’t yuh huntin’ mules?”
Mack Nolan laughed. “I am, yes. But the mule I’m hunting is white!”
Casey studied that until he had the fresh pipeful of tobacco going well. Then he looked up and grinned understandingly.
“So it’s White Mule you’re trailin’.” He kicked a stub of greasewood branch back into the flames and laughed. “Well, the tracks is deep an’ plenty, and if that’s the trail you’re takin’, I’m with yuh. You ain’t a cop–leastways you don’t spread your arms every time you turn around. Gosh, I hate them wing-floppin’ kind! They’s one thing an’ one only that I hate worse–an’ that’s bootleggers an’ moonshiners. If you got a scheme to give them cusses their needin’s, you can ask anybody if Casey Ryan ain’t the feller you can bank on.”
“Yes. That’s what I’ve been thinking. Now, I wish you’d tell me exactly what you’ve been up against. Don’t leave out anything, however trivial it might seem to you.”
Wherefore, Casey sat with the firelight flickering across his seamed, Irish face and told the story of his wrongs. Trivial details Nolan had asked for–and he got them with the full Casey Ryan flavor. Even the old woman who rocked, Casey pictured–from his particular angle. Mack Nolan sat up and listened, his eyes steady and his mouth, that had curved to laughter many times during the recital, once more firm and somewhat pitiless when Casey finished.
“This Smiling Lou; you’d know him again, of course?”
“Know him! Say, I’d know him after he’d fried a week in hell!” Casey’s tone left no doubt of his meaning.
“And I suppose you could tell this man Kenner a mile off and around a corner. Now, I’ll tell you what I want you to do, Casey. This may jar you a little–until I explain. I want you–“Mack Nolan paused, his lips twitching in a faint smile–“to do a little bootlegging yourself.”
“Yuh–WHAT?” In the firelight Casey’s eyes were seen to bulge.
“I want you to bootleg this whisky you’ve got in the car.” Nolan’s eyes twinkled. “I want you to go back and peddle this booze, and I want you to do it so that Smiling Lou or one of his bunch will hold you up and highjack you. Do you see what I mean? You don’t–so I’ll tell you. We’ll put it in marked bottles. I have the bottles and the seals and labels for every brand of liquor to be had in the country to-day. With marked money and marked bottles, we ought to be able to get the goods on that gang.”
Casey thought of something quite suddenly and held out an imperative, pointing finger.
“There’s something else that feller told me was in the car!” he cried agitatedly. “He said he had forty pints of French champagne cached in a false bottom under the front seat. And he said the front cushion had a blind pocket around the edges that was full uh dope. Hop, he called it.”
Mack Nolan whistled under his breath.
“And he turned the whole outfit over to you for sixteen hundred dollars or so?” He stared thoughtfully into the fire. Abruptly he looked at Casey.
“What the deuce had you done to him, Ryan?” he asked, with a quizzical intentness. “He must have been scared stiff, to let go of all that stuff for sixteen hundred. Why, man, the ‘junk’– that’s dope–alone must be worth more than that. And the champagne –forty pints, you say? He ought to get twenty dollars a pint for that. Figure it yourself. I hope,” he added seriously, “the fellow wasn’t too scared to show up again.”
“Well,” Casey said grimly, “I dunno how scart he is–but he knows darn’ well I’ll kill ‘im. I told im I would.”
Again Mack Nolan laughed. “Catching’s much better than killing, Ryan. It hurts a man worse, and it lasts a heap longer. What do you say to turning in? To-morrow we’ll have a full day at my private bottling works.”
They moved their cooking outfit down near the Ford for safety’s sake. While it was wholly improbable that the car would be robbed in the night, Mack Nolan was a man who took as few chances as possible. It happened that the excavation Casey had so hopefully made that morning formed a convenient level for their bed; wherefore they spread it there, talking in low tones of their plans until they went to sleep.
Dawn was just thinning the curtain of darkness when Nolan woke Casey with a shake of the shoulder.
“I think we’d better be moving from here before the world’s astir. You can back on down this draw, Ryan, and strike an old trail that cuts over the ridge and up the next gulch to an old, deserted mine where I’ve made headquarters. It isn’t far, and we can have breakfast at my camp.”
Casey swallowed his astonishment, and for once in his life he did as he was told without argument.
Mack Nolan’s camp was fairly accessible by roundabout trail with a few tire tracks to point the way for Casey. Straight across the ridges, it would not have been more than two miles to Juniper Wells. Nevertheless not one man in a year would be tempted to come this way, unless it were definitely known that some one lived here.
As the camp of a man who was prospecting for pastime rather than for a grubstake, the place was perfect. Mack Nolan had taken possession of a cabin dug into the hill at the head of a long draw. A brush-covered shed of makeshift construction sheltered a car of the ubiquitous Ford make. Fifty yards away and in full sight of the cabin, the mouth of a tunnel yawned blackly under a rhyolite ledge.
Casey swept the camp with an observant glance and nodded approval as and stopped before the cabin.
“As a prospector, Mr. Nolan, I’ll say ’tis a fine layout you got here. An’ tain’t the first time an honest-lookin’ mine has been made to cover things far off from minin’. Like the Black Butte bunch, f’r instance. But if any one was to ride up on yuh unexpected here, I’ll say yuh could meet ’em with a grin an’ feel easy about your secrets.”
“That’s praise indeed, coming from an old hand like you,” Nolan declared. “Now I’ll tell you something else. With Casey Ryan in the camp the whole thing’s twice as convincing. Come in. I want to show you what I call an artistic interior.”
Grinning, Casey followed him inside and exclaimed profanely in admiration of Mack Nolan’s genius. The cabin showed every mark of the owner’s interest in the geologic formation of that immediate district.
On the floor along the wall lay specimens of mineralized rock, a couple of prospector’s picks, a single-jack and a set of drills; a sample sack, grimed and with a hole in the corner mended by the simple process of gathering the cloth together around it and tying it tightly with a string, hung from a nail above the tools. On the window sill were specimens of ore; two or three of the pieces showed a richness that lighted Casey’s eyes with the enthusiasm of an old prospector. Mining journals and a prospector’s manual lay upon a box table at the foot of the bunk. For the rest, the cabin looked exactly what it was–the orderly home of a man quite accustomed to primitive living far off from his fellows.
They had a very satisfactory breakfast cooked by Mack Nolan from his own supplies and eaten in a leisurely manner while Nolan talked of primary formations and secondary, and of mineral intrusions and breaks. Casey listened and learned a few things he had not known, for all his years of prospecting. Mack Nolan, he decided, could pass anywhere as a mining expert.
“And now, said Nolan briskly, when he had hung up the dishpan and draped the dishcloth over it to dry, “I’ll show you the bottling works. We’ll have to do the work by lantern-light. There’s not one chance in fifty that any one would show up here–but you never can tell. We could get the stuff out of sight easily enough while the car was coming up the gulch. But the smell is a different matter. We’ll take no chances.”
At the head of the bunk, a curtained space beneath a high shelf very obviously did duty as a wardrobe. A leather motor coat hung there, one sleeve protruding beyond the curtain of flowered calico. Other garments bulged the cloth here and there. Nolan, smiling over his shoulder at Casey, nodded and pushed the clothing aside. A door behind opened inward, admitting the two into a small recess from which another door opened into a cellar dug deep into the hill.
Undoubtedly this had once been used as a frost-proof storeroom. A small ventilator pipe opened–so Nolan told Casey–in the middle of a greasewood clump. Nolan lighted a gasoline lantern that shed a white brilliance upon the room. On the long table which extended down one side of the room, Casey saw boxes of bottles and other supplies which he did not at the moment recognize.
“We’ll have to rebottle all the whisky,” said Nolan.
“You’ll see a certain mark blown into the, bottom of each one of these. The champagne, I’m afraid, I must either confiscate and destroy or run the risk of marking the labels. The hop we’ll lay aside for further consideration.”
Casey grinned, thinking of the speedy downfall of his enemies, Smiling Lou and Kenner–and, as a secondary consideration other crooks of their type.
“So now we’ll unload the stuff, Ryan, and get to work here.” Nolan adjusted the white flame in the mantle of the gasoline lantern and led the way outside. “Take in the seat-cushion, Casey. I don’t fancy opening it outside, even in this howling wilderness.”
“I think I’ll just pack in the kegs first, Mr. Nolan.” For the first time since the shock of Mr. Nolan’s “mind-reading” the night before, Casey ventured a suggestion. “Anybody comes along, it’s the kegs they’d look at cross-eyed. Cushions is expected in Fords –if I ain’t buttin’ in,” he added meekly.
“Which you’re not. You’re acting as my agent now, Ryan, and it will take two heads to put this over without a hitch. Sure, put the kegs out of sight first. The bottles next–and then we’ll make short work of the dope in the cushion.”
Casey carried in the kegs while Nolan kept watch for inopportune visitors. It was thought inadvisable to unload the camp outfit from the car until the whisky was all removed. The outfit effectually hid what was below–and they were taking no chances. They both breathed freer when the two kegs were in the cellar. Nolan was pleased; too, when Casey came out with the sample bag and announced that he would carry the bottles in the bag. Then Nolan fancied he heard a car, and walked away to where he would have a longer view down the gulch. He would whistle, he said, and warn Casey if someone was coming.
He had not proceeded fifty yards when Casey yelled and brought him back at a run. Casey was rummaging in the car, throwing things about with a recklessness which ill-became an agent of the self-possessed Mack Nolan.
“There ain’t a damn’ bottle here!” he bellowed indignantly. “Them crooks gypped me outa ten gallons uh good, bottle whisky! Now what do you know about that, Mr. Nolan? That feller said it was high-grade stuff he had packed away at the bottom. He lied. There ain’t nothin’ here but a set uh skid chains an’ a jack. An’ the champagne, mebby, under the front seat!”
Mack Nolan’s eyes narrowed. “I think Ryan, I’ll have a look under that front seat.”
He had a look–several looks, in fact. There was the false bottom under the seat, but there was nothing in it. He took his pocket knife, opened a blade and split the edge of the seat-cushion at the bottom. He inserted a finger and thumb and drew out a bit of hair stuffing. He stood up and eyed Casey sharply, and Casey stared back defensively.
“He was a darned liar from start t’ finish. He said there was champagne an’ he said there was hop,” Casey stated flatly.
“I wondered at his letting go of stuff as valuable as that,” said Nolan. “I think we’d better take a look at those kegs.”
They went into the cellar and took a look at the kegs. Both kegs. Afterward they stood and looked at each other. Casey’s hands went to his hips, and the muscles along his jaw hardened into lumps. He spat into the dirt of the cellar floor.
“Water!” He snorted disgustedly. “Casey Ryan with the devil an’ all scart outa him, thinkin’ he had ownership of a load uh booze an’ hop sufficient t’ hang ‘im!” His hand slid into his trousers pocket, reaching for the comforting plug of tobacco. “Stuck up an’ robbed is what happens t’ Casey. You can ask anybody if it ain’t highway robbery!”
Nolan stopped whistling under his breath. “There’s the Ford,” he reminded Casey comfortingly.
“Which I wisht it wasn’t!” snarled Casey. “You know yourself, Mr. Nolan, it’s likely stole, an’ the first man I meet in the trail’ll likely take it off me, claimin’ it’s his’n!”
Mack Nolan started whistling again, but checked himself abruptly. “Well, our trap’s wanting bait, I see. This leaves me still hunting the White Mule.”
“Aw, tahell with your White Mule! Tahell with everything!” Casey kicked the nearest keg viciously and went out into the sunshine, swearing to himself.
In the shade of a juniper that grew on the highest point of the gulch’s rim, Mack Nolan lay sprawled on the flat of his back, one arm for a pillow, and stared up into the serene blue of the sky with cottony flakes of cloud swimming steadily to the northeast. Three feet away, Casey Ryan rested on left hip and elbow and stared glumly down upon the cabin directly beneath them. Whenever his pale, straight-lidded eyes focussed upon the dusty top of the Ford car standing in front of the cabin, Casey said something under his breath. Miles away to the south, pale violet, dreamlike in the distance, the jagged outline of a small mountain range stood as if painted upon the horizon. A wavy ribbon of smudgy brown was drawn uncertainly across the base of the mountains. This, Casey knew, when his eyes lifted to look that way, marked the line of the Sante Fe and a train moving heavily upgrade to the west.
Toward it dipped the smooth stretch of barren mesa cut straight down the middle with a yellow line that was the highway up which Casey had driven the morning before. The inimitable magic of distance and high desert air veiled greasewood, sage and sand with the glamour of unreality. The mountains beyond, unspeakably desolate and forbidding at close range, and the little black buttes standing afar, off–small spewings of age-old volcanos dead before man was born–seemed fascinating, unknown islets anchored in a sea of enchantment. Across the valley to the west nearer mountains, all amethyst and opal tinted, stood bold and inscrutable, with jagged peaks thrust into the blue to pierce and hold the little clouds that came floating by. Even the gulch at hand had been touched by the enchanter’s wand and smiled mysteriously in the vivid sunlight, the very air a-quiver with that indescribable beauty of the high mesa land which holds desert dwellers in thrall.
When first Casey saw the smoke smudge against the mountains to the south, he remembered his misadventure of the lower desert and swore. When he looked again, the majestic sweep of distance gave him a satisfied feeling of freedom from the crowded pettinesses of the city. For the first time since trouble met him in the trail between Victorville and Barstow, Casey heaved a sigh of content because he was once more out in the big land he loved. Those distant, painted mountains, looking as impossible as the back drop of a stage, held gulches and deep canyons he knew. The closer hills he had prospected. The mesa, spread all around him, seemed more familiar than the white apartment house in Los Angeles which Casey had lately called home. And if the thought of the Little Woman brought with it the vague discomfort of a schoolboy playing hookey, Casey could not have regretted being here with Mack Nolan if he had tried.
They were lying up here in the shade–following the instinct of other creatures of the wild to guard against surprises–while they worked out a nice problem in moonshine. And since the desert had never meant a monotonously placid life to Casey–who carried his problems philosophically as a dog bears patiently with fleas–he had every reason now for feeling very much at home. When he reached mechanically into his pocket for his Bull Durham and papers, any man who knew him well would have recognized the motion as a sign that Casey was himself again, once more on his mental feet and ready to go boring optimistically into his next bunch of trouble.
Mack Nolan raised his head off his arm and glanced at Casey quizzically.
“Well–we can’t catch fish if we won’t cut bait,” he volunteered sententiously. “I’ve a nice little job staked out for you, Casey.”
Casey gave a grunt that might mean one of several things, and which probably meant them all. He waited until he had his cigarette going. “If it ain’t a goat’s job I’m fer it,” he said. “Casey Ryan ain’t the man t’ set in the shade whilst there’s men runnin’ loose he’s darned anxious t’ meet.”
“I’ve been thinking over the deal those fellows pulled on you. If the man Kenner had left you the booze and dope he told you was in the car, I’d say it was a straight case of a sticky-fingered officer letting a bootlegger by with part of his load, and a later attack of cold feet on the part of the bootlegger. But they didn’t leave you any booze. So I have doped it this way, Ryan.
“The thing’s deeper than it looked, yesterday. Those two were working together, part of a gang, I should say, with a fairly well-organized system. By accident–and probably for a greater degree of safety in getting out of the city, Kenner invited you to ride with him. He wanted no argument with that traffic cop– no record made of his name and license number. So he took you in. When he found out who you were, he knew you were at outs with the law. He knew you as an experienced desert man. He had you placed as a valuable member of their gang, if you could be won over and persuaded to join them.
“As soon as possible he got you behind the wheel–further protection to himself if he should meet an officer who was straight. He felt you out on the subject of a partnership. And when you met Smiling Lou–well, this Kenner had decided to take no chance with you. He still had hopes of pulling you in with them, but he was far from feeling sure of you. He undoubtedly gave Smiling Lou the cue to make the thing appear an ordinary case of highjacking while he ditched his whole load so that there would be no evidence against him if he lost out and you turned nasty.
“I’m absolutely certain, Casey, that if you had not been along, Smiling Lou would not have touched that load. They’d probably have stopped there for a talk, exchanged news and perhaps perfected future plans, and parted like two old cronies. It’s possible, of course, that Smiling Lou might have taken some whisky back with him–if he had needed it. Otherwise, I think they split more cash than booze, as a rule.”
Casey sat up. “Well, they coulda played me for a sucker easy enough,” he admitted reluctantly. “An’ if it’ll be any help to yuh, Mr. Nolan, I’ll say that I never seen the money passed from Kenner to Smilin’ Lou, an’ I never seen a bottle unloaded from the car. I heard ’em yes. An’ I’ll say there was a bunch of ’em all right. But what I SEEN was the road ahead of me and that car of Smilin’ Lou’s standin’ in the middle of it. He had a gun pulled on me, mind yuh–and you can ask anybody if a feller feels like rubberin’ much when there’s only the click of a trigger between him an’ a six-foot hole in the ground.”
“All the more reason,” said Nolan, also sitting up with his hands clasped around his knees, “why it’s important to catch them with the goods. You’ll have to peddle hootch, Casey, until we get Smiling Lou and his outfit.”
“And where, Mr. Nolan, do I git the booze to peddle?” asked Casey practically.
Nolan laughed to himself. “It can be bought,” he said, “but I’d rather not. Since you’ve never monkeyed with the stuff, it might make you conspicuous if you went around buying up a load of hootch. And of course I can’t appear in this thing at all. But I have what I think is a very good plan.”
Casey looked at him inquiringly, and again Nolan laughed.
“Nothing for it, Casey,–we’ll have to locate a still and rob it. That, or make some of our own, which takes time. And it’s an unpleasant, messy job anyway.”
Casey stared dubiously down into the gulch. “That’d be fine, Mr. Nolan, if we knew where was the still. Or mebby yuh do know.”
Mack Nolan shook his head. “No, I don’t, worse luck. I haven’t been long enough in the district to know as much about it as I hope to know later on. Prospecting for this headquarters took a little time; and getting my stuff moved in here secretly took more time. A week ago, Casey, I shouldn’t have been quite ready to use you. But you came when you were needed, and so–I feel sure the White Mule will presently show up.”
Casey lifted his head and stared meditatively out across the immensity of the empty land around them.
“She’s a damn’ big country, Mr. Nolan. I dunno,” he remarked doubtfully. “But Casey Ryan has yet t’ go after a thing an’ fail t’ git it. I guess if it’s hootch we want, it ought t’ be easy enough t’ find; it shore has been hard t’ dodge it lately! If yuh want White Mule, Mr. Nolan, you send Casey out travelin’ peaceful an’ meanin’ harm t’ nobody. Foller Casey and you’ll find ‘im tangled up with a mess uh hootch b’fore he gits ten miles from camp.”
“You could go out and highjack some one.” Nolan agreed, taking him seriously–which Casey had not intended. “I think we’ll go down and load the camp outfit into my car, Ryan, and I’ll start you out. Go up into your old stamping ground where people know you. If you’re careful in picking your men, you could locate some hootch, couldn’t you, without attracting attention?”
Casey studied the matter. “Bill Masters could mebby help me out,” he said finally. “Only I don’t like the friends Bill’s been wishin’ onto me lately. This man Kenner, that held me up, knowed Bill Masters intimate. I’m kinda losin’ my taste fer Bill lately.”
Mack Nolan seized upon the clue avidly. Before Casey quite realized what he had done, he found himself hustled away from camp in Mack Nolan’s car, headed for Lund in the service of his government. Since young Kenner had been able to talk so intimately of Bill Masters, Mack Nolan argued that Bill Masters should likewise be able to give some useful information concerning young Kenner. Moreover, a man in Bill Masters’ position would probably know at least a few of the hidden trails of the White Mule near Lund.
“If you can bring back a load of moonshine Ryan, by all means do so,” Nolan instructed Casey at the last moment. “Here’s money to buy it with. We should have enough to make a good haul for Smiling Lou. Twenty gallons at least–forty, if you can get them. Keep your weather eye open, and whatever happens, don’t mention my name or say that you are working with the law. In five days, if you are not here, I shall drive to Las Vegas. Get word to me there if anything goes wrong. Just write or wire to General Delivery. But I look for you back, Ryan, not later than Friday midnight. Take no unnecessary risk; this is more important than you know.”
Nolan’s crisp tone of authority remained with Casey mile upon mile. And such was the Casey Ryan driving that midnight found him coasting into Bill Masters’ garage in Lund with the motor shut off and a grin on the Casey Ryan face.
Mack Nolan had just crawled into his bunk on Wednesday night when he thought he heard a car laboring up the gulch. He sat up in bed to listen and then got hurriedly into his clothes. He was standing just around the corner of the dugout where the headlights could not reach him, when Casey killed the engine and stopped before the door. Steam was rising in a small cloud from the radiator cap, and the sound of boiling water was distinctly audible some distance away.
Mack Nolan waited until Casey had climbed out from behind the wheel and headed for the door. Then he stepped out and hailed him. Casey started perceptibly, whirling as if to face an enemy. When he saw that it was Nolan he apparently lost his desire to enter the cabin. Instead he came close to Nolan and spoke in a hoarse whisper.
“We better run ‘er under the shed, Mr. Nolan, and drain the darned radiator. I dunno am I follered or not, but I was awhile back. But the man that catches Casey Ryan when he’s on the trail an’ travelin, has yet t’ be born. An’ you can ask anybody if that ain’t so.”
Mack Nolan’s eyes narrowed. “And who followed you then?” he asked quietly. “Did you bring any hootch?”
“Did yuh send Casey Ryan after hootch, or was it mebby spuds er somethin’?” Casey retorted with heavy dignity. “Will yuh pack it in, Mr. Nolan, whilst I back the car in the shed, or shall I bring it when I come? It ain’t so much,” he added drily, “but it cost the trouble of a trainload.”
“I’ll take it in,” said Nolan. “If any one does come we want no evidence in reach.”
Casey turned to the car, clawed at his camp outfit and lifted out a demijohn which he grimly handed to Nolan. “Fer many a mile it rode on the seat with me so I could drink ‘er down if they got me cornered,” he grinned. “One good swaller is about the size of it, Mr. Nolan.”
Nolan grinned in sympathy and turned into the cabin, bearing the three-gallon, wicker-covered glass bottle in his arms. Presently he returned to the doorway and stood there listening down the gulch until Casey came up, walking from the shed.
“‘Tis a good thing yuh left this other car standin’ here cold an’ peaceful, Mr. Nolan,” Casey, observed, after he also had stood for a minute listening. “If they’re follerin’ they’ll be here darn’ soon. If they ain’t I’ve ditched ’em. Let’s git t’ bed an’ I’ll tell yuh my tale uh woe.”
Without a word Nolan led the way into the cabin. In the dark they undressed and got into the bed which was luckily wide enough for two.
“Had your supper?” Nolan asked belatedly when they were settled.
“I did not,” Casey grunted. “I will say, Mr. Nolan, there’s few times in my life when you’d see Casey Ryan missin’ ‘is supper whilst layin’ tracks away from a fight. But if it was light enough you could gaze upon ‘im now. And I must hand it t’ the Gallopin’ Gussie yuh give me the loan of fer the trip. She brung me home ahead of the sheriff–and you can ask anybody if Casey Ryan himself can’t be proud uh that!”
“The sheriff?” Nolan’s voice was puzzled. He seemed to be considering something for a minute, before he spoke again. “You could have explained to the sheriff, couldn’t you, your reason for having booze in the car?”
Casey raised to one elbow. “When yuh told Casey Ryan ’twas not many men you’d trust, and that you trusted me an’ the business was t’ be secret–Mr. Nolan, you ‘was talkin’ t’ CASEY RYAN!” He lay down again as if that precluded further argument.
“Good! I thought I hadn’t made a mistake in my man,” Nolan approved, in a tone that gave Casey an inner glow of pride in himself. “Let’s have the story, old man. Did you see Bill Masters?”
“Bill Masters,” said Casey grimly, “was not in Lund. His garage is sold an, Bill’s in Denver–which is a long drive for a Ford t’ git there an, back before Friday midnight. Yuh put a time limit me, Mr. Nolan, an’ nobody had Bill’s address. I didn’t foller Bill t’ Denver. I asked some others in Lund if they knowed a man named Kenner, and they did not. So then I went huntin’ booze that I could git without the hull of Nevada knowin’ it in fifteen minutes. An’ Casey’s got this t’ say: When yuh WANT hootch. it’s hard t’ find as free gold in granite. When yuh DON’T want it, it’s forced on yuh at the point of a gun. This jug I stole–seein’ your business is private, Mr. Nolan.
“I grabbed it off some fellers I knowed in Lund an’ never had no use for, anyway. They’re mean enough when they’re sober, an’ when they’re jagged they’re not t’ be mentioned on a Sunday. I mighta paid ’em for it, but money’s no good t’ them fellers an’ there’s no call t’ waste it. So they made a holler and I sets the jug down an’ licks them both, an’ comes along home mindin’ my own business.
“So I guess they ‘phoned the sheriff in Vegas that here comes a bootlegger and land ‘im quick. Anyway, I was goin’ t’ stop there an’ take on a beefsteak an’ a few cups uh coffee, but I never done it. I was slowin’ down in front uh Sam’s Place when a friend uh mine gives me the high sign t’ put ‘er in high an’ keep ‘er goin’. Which I done.
“Down by Ladd’s, Casey looks back an’ here comes the sheriff’s car hell bent fer ‘lection (anyway it looked like the sheriff’s car). An’ I wanta say right here, Mr. Nolan, that’s a darn’ good Ford yuh got! I was follered, and ‘I was follered hard. But I’m here an’ they’ ain’t–an’ you can ask anybody if that didn’t take some going’!”
In the darkness of the cabin Casey turned over and heaved a great sigh. On the heels of that came a chuckle.
“I got t’ hand it t’ the L. A. traffic cops, Mr. Nolan. They shore learned me a lot about dodgin’. So now yuh got the hull story. If it was the sheriff behind me an’ if he trails me here, they got no evidence an’ you can mebby square it with ‘im. You’d know what t’ tell ‘im–which is more’n what Casey Ryan can say.”
Casey fell asleep immediately afterward, but Mack Nolan lay for a long while with his eyes wide open and his ears alert for strange sounds in the gulch. He was a new man in this district, working independently of sheriff’s offices. Casey Ryan was the first man he had confided in; all others were fair game for Nolan to prove honest or dishonest with the government. The very nature of his business made it so. For when whisky runners drove openly in broad daylight through the country with their unlawful loads, somewhere along the line officers of the law were sharing the profits. Nolan knew none of them,–by sight. If he carried the records of some safely memorized and pigeonholed for future use, that was his own business. Mack Nolan’s thoughts were his own and he guarded them jealously and slept with his lips tightly closed. He wanted no sheriff coming to him for explanation of his movements. Wherefore he listened long, and when he slept his slumber was light.
At daylight he was up and abroad. Two hours after sunrise Casey awoke with the smell of breakfast in his nostrils. He rolled over and blinked at Mack Nolan standing with his hat on the back of his head and a cigarette between his lips, calmly turning three hot-cakes with a kitchen knife. Casey grinned condescendingly. He himself turned his cakes by the simple process of tossing them in the air a certain kind of flip, and catching them dexterously as they came down. Right there he decided that Mack Nolan was not after all a real outdoors man.
“Well, the sheriff didn’t arrive last night,” Nolan observed cheerfully, when he saw that Casey was awake. “I don’t much look for him, either. Your driving on past the turn to Juniper Wells and coming up that other old road very likely threw him off the track. You must have been close to the State line then and he gave you up as a bad job.”
“It was a GOOD job!” Casey maintained reaching for his clothes. “I made ’em think I was headed clean outa the country. If they knowed who it was at all, they’d know I belong in L. A., and I figured they’d guess I was headed there. They stopped for something this side of Searchlight an’ so I pulls away from ’em a couple of miles. They never seen where I went to.”
While he washed for breakfast, Casey began to take stock of certain minor injuries.
“That darned Pete Gibson has got tushes in his mouth like a wild hawg; the kind that sticks out,” he grumbled, touching certain skinned places on his knuckles. “Every time I landed on ‘im yesterday I run against them tushes uh his’n.” But he added with a grin, “They ain’t so solid as they was when I met up with ‘im. I felt one of ’em give ‘fore I got through.”
“Brings the price of moonshine up a bit, doesn’t it?” Nolan suggested drily. “I rather think you might better have paid the men their price. A fight is well enough in its way–I’m Irish myself. But as my agent, Ryan, the main idea is to let the law fight for you. Our work is merely to give the law a chance. I like your not wanting to explain to the sheriff. Prohibition officers do not explain, as a rule. The law behind them does that.
“And since the price seems to be rather hard on the knuckles–” He glanced down at Casey’s hands and grinned”–I think it may come cheaper to make the stuff ourselves. Licking two men for three gallons, and getting the officers at your tail light into the bargain, is all right as an experiment; but I don’t believe, Ryan, we ought to adopt that as a habit.
Casey cocked an eye up at him. “Did yuh ever make White Mule, Mr. Nolan? he asked grimly.
Nolan laughed his easy little chuckle. “Why, no, Ryan, I never did. Did you?”
“Naw. I seen some made once, but I had too much of it inside me at the time to learn the receipt for it. I’d rather steal it, if it’s all the same to you, Mr. Nolan.” His hand went up to the back of his head and moved forward, although there was no hat to push. “I’ve lived honest all these years–an’, dammit, it’s kinda tough to break out with stealin I what yuh don’t want! Couldn’t we fill them bottles with somethin’ that LOOKS like hootch? Cold tea should get by, Mr. Nolan. It’d be a fine joke on Smilin’ Lou.”
“A good joke, maybe–but no evidence. It isn’t against the law, Ryan, to have cold tea in your possession. No, it’s got to be whisky, and there’s got to be a load of it. Enough to look like business and tempt him or any other member of the gang you happen to meet. If they caught you with three gallons, Casey, they’d probably run you in and feel very virtuous about it. Nothing for it, I’m afraid. We’ll have to become real moonshiners ourselves for awhile.”
Casey ate with less appetite after that. Making moonshine did not appeal to him at all. Given his choice, I think he would even prefer drinking it, unhappy as the effect had been on him.
“We’ll need a still, and we’ll need the stuff. I’m going to leave you in charge of the camp, Ryan, while I make a trip to Needles. I’ll deputize you to assist me in cleaning up this district. And this district, Ryan, touches salt water. So if revenge looks good to you, you’ll have a fine chance to get even with the bootleggers. And in the meantime, just kill time around camp here while I’m gone. If any one shows up, you’re prospecting.”
That day, doubt-devils took hold of Casey Ryan and plucked at his belief. How did he know that Mack Nolan wasn’t another bootlegger, wanting to rope Casey in on a job for some fell purpose of his own? He had Mack Nolan’s word and nothing more. For that matter, he had also had young Kenner’s word. Kenner had fooled him completely. Mack Nolan could also fool him–perhaps.
“Well, anyhow, he never claimed to know Bill Masters, and that’s a point in ‘is favor. And if it’s some dirty work he’s up to, he coulda made it shorter than what he’s doin’. An’ if he’s double-crossin’ Casey Ryan–well, anyway, Casey Ryan ‘ll be present at the time an’ place when he does it!”
Upon that comforting thought, Casey decided to trust Mack Nolan until he caught him playing crooked; and proceeded to kill time as best he could.
It was noon the next day when Nolan returned, and he did not explain why he was eighteen hours overdue. Casey eyed him expectantly, but Nolan’s manner was brisk and preoccupied.
“Help me unload this stuff, Ryan,” he said, “and put it out of sight in the cellar. We won’t have to go through the process of making moonshine, after all.”
Casey looked into the car, pulling aside the tarp. Four kegs he counted, and lifted out one.
“An’ how many did YOU lick, Mr. Nolan?” he grinned over his shoulder as he started for the door.
Nolan laughed noncommittally.
“Perhaps I’m luckier at picking my bootleggers,” he retorted. “If you carry the right brand of bluff, you can keep the skin on your knuckles, Ryan. This beats making it, at any rate.”
That afternoon and the next day, Casey Ryan did what he never dreamed was possible. With Mack Nolan to show him how, Casey performed miracles. While he did not, literally change water into wine, he did give forty-three gallons of White Mule a most imposing pedigree.
He turned kegs of crude, moonshine whisky into Canadian Club, Garnkirk, Tom Pepper, Three Star Hennessey and Cognac–if you were to believe the bottles, labels and government seals. Under Mack Nolan’s instruction and with his expert assistance, the forgery was perfect. While the cellar reeked with the odor of White Mule when they had finished, the bottled array on the table whispered of sybaritic revelings to glisten the eyes of the most dissipated man about town.
“When it’s as easy done as that, Mr. Nolan, the feller’s a fool that drinks it. You’ve learnt Casey Ryan somethin’ that mighta done ‘im some good a few years back.” He picked up a flat, pint bottle and caressed its label with reminiscent finger tips.
“Many’s the time me an’ old Tommy Pepper drove stage together,” he mused. “Throwed ‘im at a bear once that I met in the trail over in Colorado when I hadn’t no gun on me. Busted a pint on his nose–man! Then I never waited to see what happened. I was a wild divil them days when me an’ Tommy Pepper was side pardners. But a yaller snake with a green head crawled out of a bottle of ‘im once–and that there was where Casey Ryan says good-by to booze. If I hadn’t quit ‘im then, I’d sure as hell quit ‘im now. After this performance, Mr. Nolan, Casey Ryan’s goin’ to look twice into his coffee pot. I wouldn’t believe in cow’s milk, if I done the milkin’ myself!”
“Most of the stuff that’s peddled nowadays is doctored,” Nolan replied, with the air of one who knows. “When it isn’t White Mule, it’s likely to be something worse. That’s one of the chief reasons why I’m fighting it. If they only peddled decent whisky it wouldn’t be so bad, Ryan. But it’s rank poison. I’ve seen so many go stone blind–or die–that it makes me pretty savage sometimes. So now I’ll coach you in the part you’re to play as hootch runner; and to-morrow you can start for Los Angeles.”
Casey did not answer. He felt absently for his pipe, filled and lighted it and went out to sit on the doorstep in gloomy meditation while he smoked.
Returning to Los Angeles, even without a bootlegger’s load, was not a matter which Casey liked to contemplate. He would have to face the Little Woman if he went back; either as a deliberate liar, who lied to his wife to gain the freedom he might have had without resorting to deceit, or as the victim once more of crooks. Casey thought he would prefer the accusation of lying deliberately to the Little Woman, though it made him squirm to think of it. He wished she had not openly taunted him with getting into trouble and needing her always to get him out.
He would like to tell her that he was now working for the government. The secrecy of his mission, the danger it involved, would impress even her amused cynicism. But the very secrecy of his mission in itself made it impossible for him to tell her anything about it. Casey would not admit it, but it was a real disappointment to him that he could not wear a star on his coat.
All that day and evening he was glum, a strange mood for Casey Ryan. But if Mack Nolan noticed his silence, he gave no sign. Nolan himself was wholly absorbed by the business in hand. The success of this plan meant a good deal to him, and he told Casey so very frankly; which lightened Casey’s gloom perceptibly.
Casey was to drive to Los Angeles–even to San Diego if necessary– and return within a week, unless Nolan’s hopes were fulfilled and Casey was held up and highjacked. If he were apprehended by officers who were honestly discharging their duty, Casey was to do thus-and-so, and presently be free to drive on with his load. If he were highjacked (Casey gritted his teeth and said he hoped the highjacker would be Smiling Lou), he was to permit himself to be robbed, worm himself as far as possible into their confidence and return for further orders.
If Mack Nolan should chance to be absent from the cabin, then Casey was to wait until he returned. And Nolan intimated that hereafter the making of moonshine might be a part of Casey’s duties. Then, without warning, Mack Nolan struck at the heart of Casey’s worry.
“I don’t want to dictate to any man in family affairs, Ryan. But I’ve got to speak of one other matter,” he said diffidently. “I suppose naturally you’ll want to go home and let your wife know you’re still alive, anyway. But if you can manage to keep your present business a secret for the time being, I think you’d better do it. You said you were planning to be away on a trip for some time, I remember. If you can just let it go that way, or say that you are prospecting over here, I wish you would. Think you can manage that all right?”
“I’d rather manage a six-horse team of bronk mules,” Casey admitted. “But after the way the missus thinks I lied to ‘er about takin’ the next train home from Barstow, anything I say ‘ll be used agin’ me. My wife’s got brains. She ain’t put it down that the trains have quit runnin’. Accordin’ to her figures, Casey’s lied and he’s in a hole again, an’ it’ll be up to her an’ Jack to run windlass an’ pull ‘im out. Don’t matter what I say she won’t believe me anyhow –so Casey won’t say nothin’. Can’t lie with your mouth shut, can yuh?”
“Oh, yes, it’s been done,” Mack Nolan chuckled. “Now we’ll set down the serial numbers and the bank name of this ‘jack’,–and here’s your expense money separate. And if there’s anything that isn’t clear to you, Ryan, speak up. You won’t hear from me again, probably, until you’re back from this fishing trip.”
Casey thought that everything was perfectly clear, and rashly he said so, as he started off.
From Barstow to Victorville, from Victorville to Camp Cajon Casey drove expectantly, hoping to meet Smiling Lou. He scanned each car that approached and slowed for every meeting like a searching party or a man who is lost and wishes to inquire the way. His pace would have been law-abiding in Los Angeles at five o’clock on Broadway between Fourth and Eighth streets. Goggled women tourists eyed him curiously, and one car stopped full to see what he wanted. But his “Tom Pepper” rode safe under the tarp behind him, and the “Three Star Hennessey” beaded daintily with the joggling it got, and Casey was neither halted nor questioned as he passed.
At Camp Cajon Casey stopped and cooked an early supper, because the summer crowd was there and a real bootlegger would have considered stopping rather unsafe. Casey boiled coffee over one of the camp fireplaces and watched furtively the sunburned holiday group nearest. He placed his supper on one of the round, cement tables near the car, and every man who passed that way Casey watched unblinkingly while he ate.
He succeeded in making three different parties swallow their supper in a hurry and pack up and leave, glancing back uneasily at Casey as they drove away. But Casey himself was unmolested, and no one asked about his load.
From Camp Cajon to San Bernardino Casey drove furiously, remembering young Kenner’s desire for speed. He stopped there for the night, and nearly had a fight with the garage man where he put up, because he showed undue caution concerning the safety of his car from prowlers during the night.
He left the car there that day and returned furtively after dark, asking the night man if he had seen any saps around his car. The night man looked at him uncomprehendingly.
“I dunno–nothin’s been picked up since I come on at six. We ain’t responsible for lost articles, anyway. See that sign?”
Casey grunted, cranked up and drove away, wondering whether the night man was as innocent as he tried to act.
From San Bernardino to Los Angeles Casey drove placidly as a load of oranges in February. He put up at a cheap place on San Pedro Street, with his car in the garage next door and a five-dollar tip in the palm of a rat-faced mechanic with Casey’s injunction to clean ‘er dingbats and keep other people away.
He did not go out to see the Little Woman, after all. He had sent her a wire from Goffs the day before, saying that he was prospecting with a fellow and he hoped she was well. This, after long pondering, had seemed to him the easiest way out of an argument with the Little Woman. The wire had given no address whereby she might reach him, but the omission was not the oversight Casey hoped she would consider it. He wanted to be reassuring without starting anything.
Los Angeles with no Little Woman at his elbow was a dismal hole, and Casey got out of it as soon as possible. As per instructions, he drove down to San Diego, ventured perilously close to the Mexico line, fooled around there for a day looking for trouble, failed to find so much as a frown and drove back.
He headed straight for San Bernardino, which was Smiling Lou’s headquarters. He killed time there and met the sheriff on the street the day he arrived. The sheriff had a memory trained to hold faces indefinitely. He smiled a little, made a polite gesture in the general direction of his hat and passed on. Casey swore to himself and resolved to duck guiltily around the nearest corner if he saw the sheriff coming his way again.
On the day when his time limit expired Casey drove up the gulch to Nolan’s camp. In the car behind him rode undisturbed his Canadian Club, Garnkirk, Three-Star Hennessey, Cognac and Tom Pepper; bottles, labels, government seals and all. Nolan was walking over from the tunnel when Casey arrived. He smiled inquiringly as he shook hands, –a ceremony to which Casey was plainly unaccustomed.
“What luck, Ryan? I beat you back by about two hours. Getting things ready to begin making it. Did they catch you all right?”
“Naw!” Casey spat disgustedly. “Never seen a booze peddler, never seen a cop look my way. I went around actin’ like I just killed a man an’ stole a lady’s diamonds, and the sheriff at San Berdoo TIPS ‘IS HAT TO ME, by golly! Drove through L. A. hella-whoopin’ an’ not a darned traffic cop knowed it was Casey Ryan. You can ask anybody if I didn’t do every thing possible to git in bad or give bootleggers a tip I was one of ’em.
“You can’t git Casey Ryan up agin’ the gang you’re after, Mr. Nolan. Only way Casey Ryan can git up agin’ the law is to go along peaceable tryin’ to please the missus an’ mindin’ his own business. I coulda peddled that damn’ hootch on a hangin’ tray like circus lemonade. I coulda stood on the corner in any uh them damned towns with the hull works piled out on a table in front of me, an’ I coulda hollered my damn’ head off ; an’ Smilin’ Lou woulda passed me by like I was sellin’ chewin’ gum and shoe strings.”
Mack Nolan looked at Casey, turned and went into the cabin, sat down on the edge of the bed and laughed until the tears dripped over his lashes. Casey Ryan followed him, and sat on the edge of the table with his arms folded. Whenever Mack Nolan lifted his face from his palms and looked at Casey, Casey swore. Whereat Mack Nolan would give another whoop.
You can’t wonder if relations were somewhat strained, between them for the rest of that day.
Nature had made Casey Ryan an optimist. The blood of Ireland had made him pugnacious. And Mack Nolan had a way with him. Wherefore, Casey Ryan once more came larruping down the grade to Camp Cajon and turned in there with a dogged purpose in his eyes and with his jaw set stubbornly. History has it that whenever Casey Ryan gets that look in his face, the man underneath might just as well holler and crawl out; because holler he must, before Casey would ever let him up.
Behind him, stowed under the bedding, grub and camp dishes, rode his eight cases of bootlegger’s bait, packed convincingly in the sawdust, straw and cardboard of the wet old days when Uncle Sam himself 0. K.’d the job. A chain of tiny beads at the top of each bottle lied and said it was good liquor. The boxes themselves said, “This side up”–when any side up would thrill the soul of the man who owned a wet appetite and a dry throat.
It was a good job Mack Nolan had made of the bottling. Uncle Sam himself must needs polish his spectacles and take another look to detect the fraud. It was a marvelous job of bottling,–and the proof lay only in the drinking. “Tommy” Pepper rode in pint flasks designed to slip safely into a man’s coat pocket. Beside him two cases of Canadian Club (if you were satisfied with the evidence of your eyes) sat serene in round-shouldered bottles–conventional, secure in its reputation. Cognac and Garnkirk, a case for each, rode in tall, slim bottles with no shoulders at all. Plumper than they, Three Star Hennessey sat smugly waiting until the joke was turned upon its victim. A tempting load it was, to men of certain minds and morals. Casey grinned sardonically when he thought of it.
Casey drove deep into the grove of sycamores and made camp there, away from the chattering picnic parties at the cement tables. By Mack Nolan’s advice he was adopting a slightly different policy. He no longer shunned his fellow men or glared suspiciously when strangers approached. Instead he was very nearly the old Casey Ryan, except that he failed to state his name and business to all and sundry with the old Casey Ryan candor, but instead avoided the subject altogether or evaded questions with vague generalities.
But as an understudy for Ananias, Casey Ryan would have been a failure. In two hours or less he had made easy trail acquaintance with six different men, and he had unconsciously managed to vary his vague account of himself six different times. Wherefore he was presently asked cautiously concerning his thirst.
“They’s times,” said Casey, hopefully lowering an eyelid, “when a feller dassent take a nip, no matter how thirsty he gits.”
The questioner stared at him for a minute and slowly nodded. “You’re darn’ right,” he assented. “I scursely ever touch anything, myself.” And he added vaguely, “Quite a lot of it peddled out here in this camp, I guess. Tourists comin’ through are scared to pack it themselves–but they sure don’t overlook any chances to take a snort.”
“Yeah?” Casey cocked a knowing eye at the speaker. “They must pay a pretty fair price fer it, too. Don’t the cops bother folks none?”
Casey filled his pipe and offered his tobacco sack to the man. The fellow took it, nodding listless thanks, and filled his own pipe. The two sat down together on the knee of a deformed sycamore and smoked in circumspect silence.
“Arizona, I see.” The man nodded toward the license plates on Casey’s car.
“Uh-huh.” Casey glanced that way. “Know a man name of Kenner?” He asked abruptly.
The fellow looked at Casey sidelong, without turning his head.
“Some. Do you?”
“Some.” Casey felt that he was making headway, though it was a good deal like playing checkers with the king row wide open and only two crowned heads to defend his men.
“Friend uh yours?” The fellow turned his head and looked straight at Casey.
Casey returned him a pale, straight-lidded stare. The man’s glance flickered and swung away.
“Who wants to know?” Casey asked calmly.
“Oh, you can call me Jim Cassidy. I just asked.” He removed his pipe from his mouth and inspected it apathetically. “He’s a friend of Bill Masters, garage man up at Lund. Know Bill?”
“Any man says I don’t, you can call ‘im a liar.” Casey also inspected his pipe. “Bought that car off’n Kenner,” Casey added boldly. Getting into trouble, he discovered, carried almost the thrill of trying to keep out of it.
“Yeah?” The self-styled Jim Cassidy looked at the Ford more attentively. “And contents?”
Casey snorted. “What do you know about goats, if anything?” he asked mysteriously.
Jim Cassidy eyed Casey sidelong through a silence. Then he brought his palm down flat on his thigh and laughed.
“You pass,” he stated, with a relieved sigh. “He’s a dinger, ain’t he?”
“You know ‘im, all right.” Casey also laughed and put out his hand. “If you’re a friend of Kenner’s, shake hands with Casey Ryan! He’s damned glad to meet yuh–an’ you can ask anybody if that ain’t the truth.”
After that the acquaintance progressed more smoothly. By the time Casey spread his bed close alongside the car–he knew just how much booze Jim Cassidy carried, just what Cassidy expected to make off the load, and a good many other bits of information of no particular use to Casey.
A strange, inner excitement held Casey awake long after Jim Cassidy was asleep snoring. He lay looking up into the leafy branches of the sycamore beside him and watched a star slip slowly across an open space between the branches. Farther up the grove a hilarious group of young hikers sang snatches of songs to the uncertain accompaniment of a ukelele. A hundred feet away on his right, occasional cars went coasting past on the down grade, coming in off the desert, or climbed more slowly with motors working, on their way up from the valley below. The shifting brilliance from their headlights flicked the grove capriciously as they went by. Now and then a car stopped. One, a big, high-powered car with one dazzling spotlight swung into the narrow driveway and entered the grove.
Casey lifted his head like a desert turtle and blinked curiously at the car as it eased past him a few feet and stopped. A gloved hand went out to the spotlight and turned it slowly, lighting the grove foot by foot and pausing to dwell upon each silent, parked car. Casey sat up in the blankets and waited.
Luck, he told himself, was grinning at him from ear to ear. For this was Smiling Lou himself, and none other. He was alone,–a big, hungry, official fish searching the grove greedily. Casey swallowed a grin and tried to look scared. The light was slowly working around in his direction.
I don’t suppose Casey Ryan had ever looked really scared in his life. His face simply refused to wear so foreign an expression. Therefore, when the spotlight finally revealed him, Casey blinked against it with a half-hearted grin, as if he had been caught at something foolish. The light remained upon him, and Smiling Lou got out of the car and came back to him slowly.
Not even Casey thought of calling Smiling Lou a fool. He couldn’t be and play the game he was playing. Smiling Lou said nothing whatever until he had looked the car over carefully (giving the license number a second sharp glance) and had regarded Casey fixedly while he made up his mind.
“Hullo! Where’s your pardner?” he demanded then.
“I’m in pardnerships with myself this trip,” Casey retorted. He waited while Smiling Lou looked him over again, more carefully this time.
“Where did you get that car?”
“From Kenner–for sixteen-hundred and seventeen dollars and five cents.” Casey fumbled in the blankets–Smiling Lou following his movements suspiciously–and got out the makings of a cigarette.
“Got any booze in that car?” Smiling Lou might have been a traffic cop, for all the trace of humanity there was in his voice.
Casey cocked an eye up at him, sent a quick glance toward the Ford, and looked back into Smiling Lou’s face. He hunched his shoulders and finished the making of his cigarette.
“I wisht you wouldn’t look,” he said glumly. “I got half my outfit in there an’ I hate to have it tore up.”
Smiling Lou continued to look at him, seeming slightly puzzled. But indecision was not one of his characteristics, evidently. He stepped up to the car, pulled a flashlight from his pocket and looked in.
Casey was up and into his clothes by the time Smiling Lou had uncovered a box or two. Smiling Lou turned toward him, his lips twitching.
“Lift this stuff out of here and put it in my car,” he commanded, elation creeping into his voice in spite of himself. “My Lord! The chances you fellows take! Think a dab of paint is going to cover up a brand burnt into the wood?”
Casey looked startled, glancing down into the car to where Smiling Lou pointed.
“The boards is turned over on all the rest,” he muttered confidentially. “I dunno how that darned Canadian Club sign got right side up.”
“What all have you got?” Smiling Lou lowered his voice when he asked the question. Casey tried not to grin when he replied. Smiling Lou gasped,
“Well, get it into my car, and make it snappy.”
Casey made it as snappy as he could, and kept his face straight until Smiling Lou spoke to him sharply.
“I won’t take you in to-night with me. I want that car. You drive it into headquarters first thing in the morning. And don’t think you can beat it, either. I’ll have the road posted. You can knock a good deal off your sentence if you crank up and come in right after breakfast. And make it an early breakfast, too.”
His manner was stern, his voice perfectly official. But Casey, eyeing him grimly, saw distinctly the left eyelid lower and lift again.
“All right–I’m the goat,” he surrendered and sat down again on his canvas-covered bed. He did not immediately crawl between the blankets, however, because interesting things were happening over at Jim Cassidy’s car.
Casey watched Jim Cassidy go picking his way amongst the tree roots and camp litter, his back straightened under the load of hootch he was carrying to Smiling Lou’s car. With Jim Cassidy also, Smiling Lou was crisply official. When the last of the hootch had been transferred, Casey heard Smiling Lou tell Jim Cassidy to drive in to headquarters after breakfast next morning–but he did not see Smiling Lou wink when he said it.
After that, Smiling Lou started his motor and drove slowly up through the grove, halting to scan each car as he passed. He swung out through the upper driveway, turned sharply there and came back down the highway speeding up on the downhill grade to San Bernardino.
Jim Cassidy came furtively over and settle down for a whispered conference on Casey’s bed.
“How much did he get off’n YOU?” he asked inquisitively. “Did he clean yuh out?”
“Clean as a last year’s bone in a kioty den,” Casey declared, hiding his satisfaction as best he could. “Never got my roll though.”
“He wouldn’t–not with you workin’ on the inside. Guess it must be kinda touchy around here right now. New officers, mebby. He wouldn’t a’ cleaned us out if we’d a’ been safe. He never came into camp before–not when I’ve been here. Made that same play to you, didn’t he–about givin’ yourself up in the morning? Uh course yuh know what that means–DON’T!”
“He shore is foxy, all right,” Casey commented with absolute sincerity. “You can ask anybody if he didn’t pull it off like the pleasure was all his’n. No L. A. traffic cop ever pinched me an I looked like he enjoyed it more.”
“Oh, Lou’s cute, all right. They don’t any of ’em put anything over on Lou. You must be new at the business, ain’t yuh?”
“Second trip,” Casey informed him with an air of importance– which he really felt, by the way. “What Casey’s studyin’ on now, is the next move. No use hangin’ around here empty. What do YOU figger on doin’?”
“Well, Lou didn’t give no tip–not to me, anyway. So I guess it’ll be safe to drive on in to the city and load up again. I got a feller with me–he caught a ride in to San Berdoo; left just before you drove in. Know where to go in the city? ‘Cause I can ride in with you, an’ let him foller.”
“That’ll suit me fine,” Casey declared. And so they left it for the time being, and Cassidy went back to bed.
A great load had dropped from Casey’s shoulders, and he was asleep before Jim Cassidy had ceased to turn restlessly in his blankets. Getting the White Mule out of his car and into the car of Smiling Lou had been the task which Nolan had set for him. What was to happen thereafter Casey could only guess, for Nolan had not told him. And such was the Casey Ryan nature that he made no attempt to solve the problems which Mack Nolan had calmly reserved for himself.
He did not dream, for instance, that Mack Nolan had watched him load the stuff into Smiling Lou’s car. He did know that an unobtrusive Cadillac roadster was parked at the next campfire. It had come in half an hour behind him, but the driver had not made any move toward camping until after dark. Casey had glanced his way when the car was parked and the driver got out and began fussing around the car, but he had not been struck with any sense of familiarity in the figure.
There was no reason why he should. Thousands and thousands of men are of Mack Nolan’s height and general build. This man looked like a doctor or a dentist perhaps. Beyond the matter of size, similarity to Mack Nolan ceased. The Cadillac man wore a vandyke beard and colored glasses, and a panama and light gray business suit. Casey set him down in his mental catalog as “some town feller” and assumed that they had nothing in common.
Yet Mack Nolan heard nearly every word spoken by Smiling Lou, Casey and Jim Cassidy. (Readers are so inquisitive about these things that I felt I ought to tell you–else you’ll be worrying as hard as Casey Ryan did later on. I’m soft-hearted, myself; I never like to worry a reader more than is absolutely necessary. So I’m letting you in, hoping you’ll get an added kick out of Casey’s further maneuvers).
The Cadillac car, I should explain, was only one of Mack Nolan’s little secrets. There is a very good garage at Goffs, not many miles from Juniper Wells. A matter of an hour’s driving was sufficient at any time for Mack Nolan to make the exchange. And no man at Goffs would think it very strange that the owner of a Cadillac should prefer to drive a Ford over rough, desert trails to his prospect in the mountains. Mack Nolan, as I have told you before, had a way with him.
With a load of booze in the car and Jim Cassidy by his side, Casey Ryan drove down the long, eucalyptus-shaded avenue that runs past the balloon school at Arcadia and turned into the Foothill Boulevard. Half a mile farther on a Cadillac roadster honked and slid past them, speeding away toward Monrovia. But Casey Ryan was busy talking chummily with Jim Cassidy, and he scarcely knew that a car had passed.
The money he had been given for Smiling Lou had been used to pay for this new load of whisky, and Casey found himself wishing that he could get word of it to Mack Nolan. Still, Nolan’s oversight in the matter of arranging for communication between them did not bother Casey much. He was doing his part; if Mack Nolan failed to do his, that was no fault of Casey Ryan’s.
At Fontana, where young Kenner had stopped for gas on that eventful first trip of Casey’s, Casey slowed down also, for the same purpose, half tempted to call up the Little Woman on long distance while the gas tank was being filled. But presently the matter went clean from his mind–and this was the reason:
A speed cop whose motorcycle stood inconspicuously around the corner of the garage, came forward and eyed the Ford sharply. He drew his little book from his pocket, turned a few leaves, found what he was looking for and eyed again the car. The garage man, slowly turning the crank of the gasoline pump, looked at him inquiringly; but the speed cop ignored the look and turned to Casey.
“Where’d you get this car?” he demanded, in much the same tone which Smiling Lou had used the night before.
“Bought it,” Casey told him gruffly.
“Where did you buy it?”
“Over at Goffs, just this side of Needles.”
“Got a bill of sale?”
“You got Casey Ryan’s word fer it,” Casey retorted, with a growing heat inside, where he kept his temper when he wasn’t using it.
“Are you Casey Ryan?” The speed cop’s eyes hardened just a bit.
“Anybody says I ain’t, you send ’em to me–an’ then come around in about ten minutes an’ look ’em over.”
“What’s YOUR name?” The officer turned to Jim Cassidy.
“Tom Smith. I was just ketchin’ a ride with this feller. Don’t go an’ mix ME in–I ain’t no ways concerned; just ketchin’ a ride is all. If I’d ‘a’ knowed–“
“You can explain that to the judge. Get in there, you, and drive in to San Berdoo. I’ll be right with you, so you needn’t forget the road!” He stepped back to his motorcycle and pushed it forward.
“Hey! Don’t I git paid fer my gas?” the garage man wailed, pulling a dripping nozzle from Casey’s gas tank.
“Aw, go tahell!” Casey grunted, and threw a wadded bank note in his direction. “Take that an’ shut up. What yuh cryin’ around about a gallon uh gas, fer? YOU ain’t pinched!”
The money landed near the motorcycle and the officer picked it up, smoothed out the bill, glanced at it and looked through tightened lids at Casey.
“Throwin’ money around like a hootch-runner!” he sneered. “I guess you birds need lookn’ after, all right. Git goin’!”
Casey “got going.” Twice on the way in the officer spurted up alongside and waved him down for speeding. Casey had not intended to speed, either. He was merely keeping pace unconsciously with his thoughts.
He had been told just what he must do if he were arrested for bootlegging, but he was not at all certain that his instructions would cover an arrest for stealing an automobile. Nolan had forgotten about that, he guessed. But Casey’s optimism carried him jauntily to jail in San Bernardino, and while he was secretly a bit uneasy, he was not half so worried as Jim Cassidy appeared to be.
Casey was booked–along with “Tom Smith”–on two charges: theft of one Ford car, motor number so-and-so, serial number this-and-that, model, touring, year, whatever-it-was. And, unlawful transportation of spirituous liquor. He tried to give the judge the wink, but without any happy result. So he eventually found himself locked in a cell with Jim Cassidy.
Just at first, Casey Ryan was proud of the part he was playing. He could look with righteous toleration upon the limpness of his fellow prisoner. He could feel secure in the knowledge that he, Casey Ryan, was an agent of the government engaged in helping to uphold the laws of his country.
He waited for an hour or two, listening with a superior kind of patience to Jim Cassidy’s panicky unbraidings of his luck. At first Jim was inclined to blame Casey rather bitterly for the plight he was in. But Casey soon stopped that. Young Kenner was the responsible party in this mishap, as Casey very soon made plain to Jim.
“Well, I dunno but what you’re right. It WAS kind of a dirty trick –workin’ a stole car off onto you. Why didn’t he pick some sucker on the outside? Don’t line up with Kenner, somehow. Well, I guess mebby Smilin’ Lou can see us out uh this hole all right–only I don’t like that car-stealin’ charge. Mebby Kenner an’ Lou can straighten it up, though.”
Casey wondered if they could. He wondered, too, how Nolan was going to find out about Smiling Lou getting the camouflaged White Mule. Nolan had not explained that to Casey–but Casey was not worrying yet. His faith in Mack Nolan was firm.
Came bedtime, however, with no sign of official favor toward Casey Ryan. Casey began to wonder. But probably, he consoled himself with thinking, they meant to wait until Jim Cassidy was asleep before they turned Casey loose. He lay on the hard bunk and waited hopefully, listening to the stertorous breathing of Jim Cassidy, who had forgotten his troubles in sleep.
At noon the next day Casey was still waiting–but not hopefully. “Patience on a monument” couldn’t have resembled Casey Ryan in any particular whatever. He was mad. By midnight he had begun to wonder if he was not going to be made a goat again. By daylight, he was positive that he was already a goat. By the time the trusty brought his breakfast, Casey was applying to Mack Nolan the identical words and phrases which he had applied to young Kenner when he was the maddest. Don’t ask me to tell you what they were.
Jim Cassidy still clung desperately to his faith in Smiling Lou; but Casey’s faith hadn’t so much as a finger-hold on anything. What kind of a government was it, he asked himself bitterly, that would leave a trusted agent twenty-four hours shut up in a cell with a whining crook like Jim Cassidy? If, he added pessimistically, he were an agent of the government. Casey doubted it. So far as he could see, Casey Ryan wasn’t anything but the goat.
His chief desire now was to get out of there as soon as possible so that he could hunt up Mack Nolan and lick the livin’ tar wit of him–or worse. He wanted bail and he wanted it immediately. Not a soul bad come near him, save the trusty, in spite of certain mysterious messages which Casey had sent to the office, asking for an interview with the judge or somebody; Casey didn’t care who. Locked in a cell, how was he going to do any of the things Nolan had told him to do if he happened to find himself arrested by an honest officer?
When they hauled him before the police judge, Casey hadn’t been given the chance to explain anything to anybody. Unless, of course, he wanted to beller out his business before everybody; and that, he told himself fiercely, was not Casey Ryan’s idea of the way to keep a secret. Moreover, that damned speed cop was standing right there, just waiting for a chance to wind his fingers in Casey’s collar and choke him off if he tried to say a word. And how the hell, Casey would like to know, was a man going to explain himself when he couldn’t get a word in edgeways?
So Casey wanted bail. There were just two ways of getting it, and it went against the grain of his pride to take either one. That is why Casey waited until noon before his Irish stubbornness yielded a bit and he decided to wire me to come. He had to slip the wire out by the underground method–meaning the good will of the trusty. It cost Casey ten dollars, but he didn’t grudge that.
He spent that afternoon and most of the night mentally calling the trusty a liar and a thief because there was no reply to the message. As a matter of fact, the trusty sent the wire through as quickly as possible and the fault was mine if any one’s. I was too busy hurrying to the rescue to think about sending Casey word that I was coming. Casey said afterwards that my thoughtlessness would be cured for life if I were ever locked in jail and waiting for news.
As it happened, I wired the Little Woman that Casey was in jail again, and caught the first train to San “Berdoo”–coming down by way of Barstow. I could save two or three hours that way, I found, so I told the Little Woman to meet me there and bring all the money she could get her hands on. Not knowing just what Casey was in for this time, it seemed well to be prepared for a good, stiff bail. She beat me by several hours, and between us we had ten thousand dollars.
At that it was a fool’s errand. Casey was out of jail and gone before either of us arrived. So there we were, holding the bag, as you might say, and our ten thousand dollars’ bail money.
“It’s no use asking questions, Jack,” the Little Woman told me pensively when we had finished our salad in the best cafe in town, and were waiting for the fish. “I’ve asked questions of every uniform in this town, from the district judge down to the courthouse janitor. Nobody knows a thing. I DID find that Casey was booked yesterday for having a stolen car and a load of booze in his possession, but he isn’t in jail–or if he is, they’re keeping him down in some dungeon and have thrown away the key. It was hinted in the police court that he was dismissed for want of evidence; but they wouldn’t SAY anything, and so there you are!”
We finished our fish in a thoughtful silence. Then, when the waiter had removed the plates, the Little Woman looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes.
“Well-sir, there’s something I want to tell you, Jack. I believe Casey has put this town on the run. They can’t tell ME! Something’s happened, over around the courthouse. A lot of the men I talked with had a scared look in their eyes, and they were nervous when doors opened, and looked around when people came walking along. I don’t know what he’s been doing–but Casey Ryan’s been up to something. You can’t tell ME! I know how our laundry boy looks when Casey’s home.”
“And didn’t you get any line at all on his whereabouts?” I asked her. Given three hours the start of me, I knew perfectly well that the Little Woman had found out all there was to know about Casey.
“Well-sir–I’ve got this to go on,” the Little Woman drawled and held a telegram across the table. “You’ll notice that was sent from Goffs. It’s ten days old, but I’ve been getting ready ever since it arrived. I’ve put Babe in a boarding-school, and I leased the apartment house. I kept three dressmakers ruining their eyes with nightwork, Jack, making up some nifty sports clothes. If Casey’s bound to stay in the desert–well, I’m his wife–and Casey does kind of like to have me around. You can’t tell ME.
“So I’ve got the twin-six packed with the niftiest camp outfit you ever saw, Jack. I’ve got a yellow and red beach umbrella, and two reclining chairs, and–well-sir, I’m going to rough it de luxe. I don’t expect to keep Casey in hand–I happen to know him. But it’s just possible, Jack, that I can keep him in sight!”
Of course I told her–as I’ve told her often enough before–that she was a brick. I added that I would go along, if she liked;