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   Chapter 25 THEY'RE RUNNIN' ME OUTA TOWN

Oh, You Tex! By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 9681

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Jumbo Wilkins came wheezing into the Sunset Trail corral, where Jack Roberts was mending a broken bridle. "'Lo, Tex. Looks like you're gittin' popular, son. Folks a-comin' in fifty miles for to have a little talk with you."

The eyes of the Ranger grew intelligent. He knew Jumbo's habit of mind. The big line-rider always made the most of any news he might have.

"Friends of mine?" asked Jack casually.

"Well, mebbe friends ain't just the word. Say acquaintances. You know 'em well enough to shoot at and to blacksnake 'em, but not well enough to drink with."

"Did they say they wanted to see me?"

"A nod is as good as a wink to a blind bronc. They said they'd come to make you hard to find."

The Ranger hammered down a rivet carefully. "Many of 'em?"

"Two this trip. One of 'em used to think yore topknot was red. I dunno what he thinks now."

"And the other?"

"Carries the brand of Overstreet."

"Where are these anxious citizens, Jumbo?"

"Last I saw of 'em they were at the Bird Cage lappin' up another of the same. They've got business with Clint Wadley, too, they said."

Jack guessed that business was blackmail. It occurred to him that since these visitors had come to town to see him, he had better gratify their desire promptly. Perhaps after they had talked with him they might not have time to do their business with Wadley.

As Jumbo waddled uptown beside him, Roberts arranged the details of his little plan. They separated at the corner of the street a block from the Bird Cage. Wilkins had offered to lend a hand, but his friend defined the limit of the help he might give.

"You come in, shake hands with me, an' ask that question. Then you're through. Understand, Jumbo?"

"Sure. But I want to tell you again Overstreet is no false-alarm bad-man. He'll fight at the drop of the hat. That's his reputation, anyhow-wears 'em low an' comes a-shootin'."

"I'll watch out for him. An' I'll look for you in about three minutes."

"Me, I'll be there, son, and I wish you the best of luck."

Gurley was at the bar facing the door when the Ranger walked into the Bird Cage. He had been just ready to gulp down another drink, but as his eyes fell on this youth who came forward with an elastic step the heart died within him. It had been easy while the liquor was in his brain to brag of what he meant to do. It was quite another thing to face in battle this brown, competent youth who could hit silver dollars in the air with a revolver.

His companion read in Gurley's sallow face the dismay that had attacked him. Overstreet turned and faced the newcomer. The outlaw was a short, heavy-set man with remarkably long arms. He had come from Trinidad, Colorado, and brought with him the reputation of a killer. His eyes looked hard at the red-haired youngster, but he made no comment.

Jack spoke to the bartender. He looked at neither of the bad-men, but he was very coolly and alertly on guard.

"Joe, I left my blacksnake at home," he said. "Have you got one handy?"

"Some guys are lucky, Steve," jeered Overstreet, taking his cue from the Ranger. "Because you fell over a box and this fellow beat you up while you was down, he thinks he's a regular go-getter. He looks to me like a counterfeit four-bit piece, if anybody asks you."

Jumbo Wilkins puffed into the place and accepted the Ranger's invitation to take a drink.

"What makes you so gaunted, Jack? You look right peaked," he commented as they waited for their drinks.

"Scared stiff, Jumbo. I hear two wild an' woolly bad-men are after me. One is a tall, lopsided, cock-eyed rooster, an' the other is a hammered-down sawed-off runt. They sure have got me good an' scared. I've been runnin' ever since I heard they were in town."

Gurley gulped down his drink and turned toward the door hastily. "Come, let's go, Overstreet. I got to see a man."

The Texan and the Coloradoan looked at each other with steel-cold eyes. They measured each other in deadly silence, and while one might have counted twenty the shadow of death hovered over the room. Then Overstreet made his choice. The bragging had all been done by Gurley. He could save his face without putting up a fight.

"Funny how some folks are all blown up by a little luck," he sneered, and he followed his friend to the street.

"You got 'em buffaloed sure, Jack. Tell me how you do it," demanded Jumbo with a fat grin.

"I'm the law, Jumbo."

"Go tell that to the Mexicans, son. What do you reckon a killer like Overstreet cares for the law? He figured you might down him before he could gun you-didn't want to risk an even break with you."

The Ranger poured his untasted liquor into the spittoon and settled the bill. "Think I'll drop around to the Silver Dollar an' see if my birds have lit again."

At the Silver Dollar Jack found hi

s friend the ex-Confederate doing business with another cattleman.

"I'd call that a sorry-lookin' lot, Winters," he was saying. "I know a jackpot bunch of cows when I see 'em. They look to me like they been fed on short grass an' shin-oak." His face lighted at sight of the Ranger. "Hello, brindle-haid! Didn't know you was in town."

The quick eye of the officer had swept over the place and found the two men he wanted sitting inconspicuously at a small table.

"I'm not here for long, Sam. Two genuwine blown-in-the-bottle bad-men are after my scalp. They're runnin' me outa town. Seen anything of 'em? They belong to the Dinsmore outfit."

The old soldier looked at him with a sudden startled expression. He knew well what men were sitting against the wall a few steps from him. This was talk that might have to be backed by a six-shooter. Bullets were likely to be flying soon.

"You don't look to me like you're hittin' yore heels very fast to make a get-away, Jack," he said dryly.

"I'm sure on the jump. They're no bully-puss kind of men, but sure enough terrors from the chaparral. If I never get out o' town, ship my saddle in a gunny-sack to my brother at Dallas."

"Makin' yore will, are you?" inquired Joe Johnston's former trooper.

The red-haired man grinned. "I got to make arrangements. They came here to get me. Two of 'em-bad-men with blood in their eyes." He hummed, with jaunty insolence:

"He's a killer and a hater!

He's the great annihilator!

He's a terror of the boundless prai-ree.

"That goes double. I'm certainly one anxious citizen. Don't you let 'em hurt me, Sam."

There was a movement at the table where the two men were sitting. One of them had slid from his chair and was moving toward the back door.

The Ranger pretended to catch sight of him for the first time. "Hello, Gurley! What's yore hurry? Got to see another man, have you?"

The rustler did not wait to answer. He vanished through the door and fled down the alley in the direction of the corral. Overstreet could do as he pleased, but he intended to slap a saddle on his horse and make tracks for the cap-rock country.

Overstreet himself was not precisely comfortable in his mind, but he did not intend to let a smooth-faced boy run him out of the gambling-house before a dozen witnesses. If he had to fight, he would fight. But in his heart he cursed Gurley for a yellow-backed braggart. The fellow had got him into this and then turned tail. The man from Colorado wished devoutly that Pete Dinsmore were beside him.

"You're talkin' at me, young fellow. Listen: I ain't lookin' for any trouble with you-none a-tall. But I'm not Steve Gurley. Where I come from, folks grow man-size. Don't lean on me too hard. I'm liable to decrease the census of red-haired guys."

Overstreet rose and glared at him, but at the same time one hand was reaching for his hat.

"You leavin' town too, Mr. Overstreet?" inquired the Ranger.

"What's it to you? I'll go when I'm ready."

"'We shall meet, but we shall miss you-there will be one vacant chair,'" murmured the young officer, misquoting a song of the day. "Seems like there's nothin' to this life but meetin' an' partin'. Here you are one minute, an' in a quarter of an hour you're hittin' the high spots tryin' to catch up with friend Steve."

"Who said so? I'll go when I'm good an' ready," reiterated the bad-man.

"Well, yore bronc needs a gallop to take the kinks out of his legs. Give my regards to the Dinsmores an' tell 'em that Tascosa is no sort of place for shorthorns or tinhorns."

"Better come an' give them regards yore own self."

"Mebbe I will, one of these glad mo'nin's. So long, Mr. Overstreet. Much obliged to you an' Steve for not massacreein' me."

The ironic thanks of the Ranger were lost, for the killer from Colorado was already swaggering out of the front door.

The old Confederate gave a whoop of delight. "I never did see yore match, you doggoned old scalawag. You'd better go up into Mexico and make Billy the Kid[6] eat out of yore hand. This tame country is no place for you, Jack."

Roberts made his usual patient explanation. "It's the law. They can't buck the whole Lone Star State. If he shot me, a whole passel of Rangers would be on his back pretty soon. So he hits the trail instead." He turned to Ridley, who had just come into the Silver Dollar. "Art, will you keep cases on Overstreet an' see whether he leaves town right away?"

A quarter of an hour later Ridley was back with information.

"Overstreet's left town-lit out after Gurley."

The old Rebel grinned. "He won't catch him this side of the cap-rock."

Billy The Kid was the most notorious outlaw of the day. He is said to have killed twenty-one men before Sheriff Pat Garrett killed him at the age of twenty-one years. [6]

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