ACROSS the rustic bridge, and once behind the sycamores at the lower end of the cow pasture, Guy Evans let his horse out into a rapid gallop. A few minutes later he overtook a horseman who was moving at a slow walk farther up the canyon. At the sound of the pounding hoof-beats behind him, the latter turned in his saddle, reined about and stopped. The boy rode up and drew in his blowing mount beside the other.
“Hello, Allen!” he said.
The man nodded.
“What’s eatin’ you?” he inquired.
“I’ve been thinking over that proposition of yours,” explained Evans.
“Yes, I’ve been thinking maybe I might swing it; but are you sure it’s safe. How do I know you won’t double-cross me?”
“You don’t know,” replied the other. “All you know is that I got enough on you to send you to San Quentin. You wouldn’t get nothin’ worse if you handled the rest of it, an’ you stand to clean up between twelve and fifteen thousand bucks on the deal. You needn’t worry about me double-crossin’ you. What good would it do me? I ain’t got nothin’ against you, kid. If you don’t double-cross me I won’t double-cross you; but look out for that cracker-fed dude your sister’s goin’ to hitch to. If he ever butts in on this I’ll croak him an’ send you to San Quentin, if I swing for it. Do you get me?”
“I’ll go in on it,” he said, “because I need the money; but don’t you bother Custer Pennington—get that straight. I’d go to San Quentin and I’d swing myself before I’d stand for that. Another thing, and then we’ll drop that line of chatter—you couldn’t send me to San Quentin or anywhere else. I bought a few bottles of hootch from you, and there isn’t any judge or jury going to send me to San Quentin for that.”
“You don’t know what you done,” said Allen, with a grin. “There’s a thousand cases of bonded whisky hid back there in the hills, an’ you engineered the whole deal at this end. Maybe you didn’t have nothin’ to do with stealin’ it from a government bonded warehouse in New York; but you must a’ knowed all about it, an’ it was you that hired me and the other three to smuggle it off the ship and into the hills.”
Evans was staring at the man in wide-eyed incredulity.
“How do you get that way?” he asked derisively.
“They’s four of us to swear to it,” said Allen; “an’ how many you got to swear you didn’t do it?”
“Why, it’s a rotten frame-up!” exclaimed Evans.
“Sure it’s a frame-up,” agreed Allen; “but we won’t use it if you behave yourself properly.”
Evans looked at the man for a long minute—dislike and contempt unconcealed upon his face.
“I guess,” he said presently, “that I don’t need any twelve thousand dollars that bad, Allen. We’ll call this thing off, as far as I am concerned. I’m through, right now. Good-bye!”
He wheeled his horse to ride away.
“Hold on there, young feller!” said Allen. “Not so quick! You may think you’re through, but you’re not. We need you, and, anyway, you know too damned much for your health. You’re goin’ through with this. We got some other junk up there that there’s more profit in than what there is in booze, and it’s easier to handle. We know where to get rid of it; but the booze we can’t handle as easy as you can, and so you’re goin’ to handle it.”
“Who says I am?”
“I do,” returned Allen, with an ugly snarl. “You’ll handle it, or I’ll do just what I said I’d do, and I’ll do it pronto. How’d you like your mother and that Pennington girl to hear all I’d have to say?”
The boy sat with scowling, thoughtful brows for a long minute. From beneath a live oak, on the summit of a low bluff, a man discovered them. He had been sitting there talking with a girl. Suddenly he looked up.
“Why, there’s Guy,” he said. “Who’s that with—why, it’s that fellow Allen! What’s he doing up here?” He rose to his feet. “You stay here a minute, Grace, I’m going down to see what that fellow wants. I can’t understand Guy.”
He untied the Apache and mounted, while below, just beyond the pasture fence, the boy turned sullenly toward Allen.
“I’ll go through with it this once,” he said. “You’ll bring it down on burros at night?”
The other nodded affirmatively.
“Where do you want it?” he asked.
“Bring it to the west side of the old hay barn—the one that stands on our west line. When will you come?”
“To-day’s Tuesday. We’ll bring the first lot Friday night, about twelve o’clock; and after that every Friday the same time. You be ready to settle every Friday for what you’ve sold during the week—sabe?”
“Yes,” replied Evans. “That’s all, then”; and he turned and rode back toward the rancho.
Allen was continuing on his way toward the hills when his attention was again attracted by the sound of hoofbeats. Looking to his left, he saw a horseman approaching from inside the pasture. He recognized both horse and rider at once, but kept sullenly on his way.
Pennington rode up to the opposite side of the fence along which ran the trail that Allen followed.
“What are you doing here, Allen?” he asked in a not unkindly tone.
“Mindin’ my own business, like you better,” retorted the ex-stableman.
“You have no business back here on Ganado,” said Pennington. “You’ll have to get off the property.”
“The hell I will!” exclaimed Allen.
At the same time he made a quick movement with his right hand but Pennington made a quicker.
“That kind of stuff don’t go here, Allen,” said the younger man, covering the other with a forty-five. “Now turn around and get off the place, and don’t come on it again. I don’t want any trouble with you.”
Without a word, Allen reined his horse about and rode down the canyon; but there was murder in his heart. Pennington watched him until he was out of revolver range, and then turned and rode back to Grace Evans.