FEDERAL OFFICERS, searching the hills found the camp above Jackknife Canyon. They collected a number of empty bottles bearing labels identical with those found in Custer Pennington’s room. That was all they discovered, except that the camp was located on the Pennington property.
On the 12th of October Custer Pennington was found guilty and sentenced to six months in the county jail for having had several hundred dollars’ worth of stolen whisky in his possession. He was neither surprised nor disheartened. His only concern was for the surprised sensibilities of his family, and these—represented at the trial in the person of his father—seemed far from overwhelmed for the colonel was unalterably convinced of his son’s innocence.
Eva, who had remained at home with her mother, was more deeply affected than the others, though through a sense of injustice rather than of shame.
“You are taking it much too hard, dear,” said her mother. “One would think that our boy was really guilty.”
“Oh, if he really were, I should kill myself!”
The only person, other than the officious reformers, to derive any happiness from young Pennington’s fate was Slick Allen. He occupied a cell not far from Custer’s, and there were occasions when they were thrown together. Several times Allen saw fit to fling gibes at his former employer, much to the amusement of his fellows. They were usually indirect.
One day, as Custer was passing, Allen remarked in a loud tone:
“There’s a lot more of these damn fox-trottin’ dudes that put on airs, but ain’t nothin’ but common thieves!”
Pennington turned and faced him.
“You remember what you got the last time you tried calling me names, Allen? Well, don’t think for a minute that just because we’re in jail I won’t hand you the same thing again some day, if you get too funny. The trouble with you, Allen, is that you are labouring under the misapprehension that you are a humorist. You’re not, and if I were you I wouldn’t make faces at the only man in this jail who knows about you, and Bartolo, and—Gracial. Don’t forget Gracial!”
Allen paled, and his eyes closed to two very narrow slits. He made no more observations concerning Pennington; but he devoted much thought to him, trying to arrive at some reasonable explanation of the man’s silence, when it was evident that he must have sufficient knowledge of the guilt of others to clear himself of the charge upon which he had been convicted.
One of the first things to do, when he was released from jail, would be to do away with Bartolo. Bartolo disposed of, the other witnesses would join with Allen to lay the guilt upon the departed. Such pleasant thoughts occupied the time and mind of Slick Allen, as did also his plans for paying one Wilson Crumb a little debt he felt due this one-time friend.
Nor was Crumb free from apprehension for the time that would see Allen’s jail sentence fulfilled.
He knew enough of Allen’s activities to send the man to a Federal prison for a long term, but these matters he could not divulge without equally incriminating himself. There was, however, one little item of Allen’s past which might be used against him without signal danger to Crumb, and that was murder of Gracial. It would not be necessary for Crumb to appear in the matter at all. An anonymous letter to the police would suffice.
With natural predilection of the weak for avoiding or delaying the consummation of their intentions, Crumb postponed the writing of this letter of accusation. There was no cause for hurry, he argued, since Allen’s time would not expire until the 6th of the following August. Crumb led a lonely life after the departure of Gaza.
That Gaza de Lure had successfully thrown off the fetters into which he had tricked her never for a moment entered his calculations. Finally, however, it was borne in upon him that there was little likelihood of her returning; and so depressing had become the familiar and suggestive furnishings of the Vista del Paso bungalow that he at last gave it up. He took with him, carefully concealed in a trunk, his supply of narcotics—which he did not find so easy to dispose of since the departure of his accomplice.
During the first picture in which Grace Evans had worked with him, Crumb had become more and more impressed with her beauty and the subtle charm of her refinement, which appealed to him by contrast with the ordinary surroundings and personalities of the K. K. S. studio. There was a quiet restfulness about her which soothed his diseased nerves, and after Gaza’s desertion he found himself more and more seeking her society. As was his accustomed policy, his attentions were at first so slight, and increased by such barely perceptible degrees, that, taken in connection with his uniform courtesy, they gave the girl no warning of his ultimate purposes.
In much the same manner that he had tricked Gaza de Lure, he tricked Grace Evans into the use of cocaine; and after that the rest was easy. Renting another and less pretentious bungalow on Circle Terrace, he installed the girl there, and transferred the trunk of narcotics to her care, retaining his room at the hotel for himself.
One evening, toward the middle of October, they were dining together at the Winter Garden. Crumb had brought an evening paper on the street, and was glancing through it as they sat waiting for their dinner to be served. Presently he looked up at the girl seated opposite him.
“Didn’t you come from Ganado?” he asked.
She nodded affirmatively.
“Here’s a guy from there been sent up for bootlegging—fellow by the name of Pennington.”
She half closed her eyes, as if in pain.
“I know,” she said. “It has been in the newspapers for the last couple of weeks.”
“It isn’t Pennington who ought to be in jail,” he said. “It’s your brother.”
She looked at him in surprise, and then she laughed.
“You must have been hitting it up strong to-day, Wilson,” she said.
“Oh, no, I haven’t; but it’s funny I never thought of it before. Allen told me a long while ago that a fellow by the name of Evans was handling the hootch for him. He said he got a job from the Penningtons as stable man in order to be near the camp where they had the stuff cached in the hills. He described Evans as a young blood, so I guess there isn’t any doubt about it. You have a brother—I’ve heard you speak of him.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
“It don’t make any difference whether you believe me or not. I could put your brother in the pen, and they’ve only got Pennington in the county jail. All they could get on him, according to this article, was having stolen goods in his possession; but your brother was in on the whole proposition. It was hidden in his hay barn. He delivered it to a fellow who came up there every week, ostensibly to get hay, and your brother collected the money. Gosh, they’d send him up for sure if I ever tipped them off to what I know!”
And thus was fashioned the power he used to force her to his will.