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Authors: William Colt MacDonald

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BOOK: Shoot Him On Sight
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Then I sauntered easily back toward the bar, spur rowels ringing on the wood floor. I knew every eye was on me now. I was beginning to feel so tough I almost scared myself, and I hoped the trembling in my knees wasn't noticeable. I ordered another beer. Hofer set it out with dispatch. I tossed a silver dollar on the bar, saying, "Take a cigar out of that for yourself, and"—tossing the reward bill on the bar—"light it with that. Where's Shel?"

Hofer had been looking from me to the bill and back again. Now he said, "Who?"

"Shel—Sheldon Webster. Your boss. You not only don't hear good, you don't speak plain either."

"Oh, sure, Shel—Mr. Webster. I dunno for sure. He should be around." He raised his voice to the girl at the end. "Miss Topaz, you know where Shel—Mr. Webster is?"

"Not right now, Turk. He should be around soon." That voice reminded me of tinkling bells in cool rippling water. She glanced at me, then looked away.

I said, "Thank you, miss," and touched the brim of my sombrero. She didn't reply.

"I'll wait at a table," I told Turk, and picked up my bottle of beer and glass. At a table of squared pine, across the room, I took a chair where I could get a good look at the girl, without appearing to be too nosy. She was standing sort of sidewise at the bar, a tall girl, with a flowing skirt, just above her ankles, and high-heeled slippers. She had all the right curves in the right places, and appeared to be one-hundred percent feminine. I liked everything I saw. Probably about my own age. Hair, well, a sort of golden bronze, with thick braids coiled about a shapely head. Nice straight nose and skin like ivory with a flush of rose brushed high on the wide cheekbones. Lips full, mouth a bit wide, perhaps. That was all right with me. Without being able to get a good look, I knew she'd have white even teeth. I wondered about her eyes, which I was unable to see well. Topaz. Topaz who?

I saw Turk Hofer walk to the end of the bar and show her the reward bill I'd given him. She just glanced at it, then looked away. Turk resumed his former position to take care of the orders of more men who had drifted in and lined the bar. A hard-bitten group with scarred holsters, unshaven faces and battered sombreros. I was conscious of stealthy glances directed at me, considerable respect in those looks too. Perhaps the vicious gunman's bluff was making good. Once one of the men turned away as if to approach, but Turk spoke to him and the man returned to the bar. I gathered that Turk was telling him I wasn't the friendly type. That was okay as far as I was concerned.

I had resumed casting covert glances at the girl, when I heard a voice I recognized. I glanced toward the bar and felt my spine stiffen. The man who had entered was Hondo Crowell—the man who had shot Webb Jordan—I'd have recognized those brutal features anywhere. And I shouldn't have been surprised to see him here: that type would naturally gravitate to Onyxton. For a brief moment I had an idea of, somehow, forcing him to confess Jordan's murder, then and there. Then I sank back in my chair. That sort of act wouldn't be in character a-tall. Hondo pushed roughly between a couple of other men at the bar. They didn't say anything, just drew aside as though fearing any sort of argument with him. At that, he'd be a mean customer to cross. I could feel myself hating him with every fibre in my body. For a moment, I could just sit and glare.

"Yes, he affects me that way too," a voice said at my shoulder. Her voice! I'd never forget it.

I got to my feet fast, doffing my sombrero. She smiled and I could feel shivers running up and down my back. I indicated a chair across the table and she sat down. Then I knew why she was called Topaz. Her eyes. What were they, yellow? Gold? No, topaz was the correct description. I couldn't find my tongue for a moment.

"You know, Red-Head," she said easily, "you shouldn't allow your feelings to show in your face that way." Adding, "You might as well sit down too."

I stumbled down in my chair, leaving my sombrero on the table, gradually getting over my embarrassment. "Who you calling Red-Head?" I said, still somewhat flustered. "Bit on that shade yourself, aren't you?"

"If you like it that way."

"Lady, if I told you how much I liked it—"

"Don't start on that, please. In a minute you'll be asking me what a nice girl like myself is doing in this place." I protested, but she cut me off, "Don't deny it. I've already heard that line so often that—well, just say too often, and let it go at that."

I felt humbled beneath the cool serenity of her voice, but tried again, "My name's—"

"I know your name, Johnny Cardinal. Turk showed me a reward bill—you probably saw him do it."

I nodded. "And it doesn't make any difference to you?"

She shrugged nice shoulders. "Why should it? All sorts of queer characters come to Onyxton—usually on the run."

"And you're not going to ask what a nice man like myself is doing in this place?" I was beginning to find myself again.

She showed dimples and the nice even teeth I'd expected. "Lord knows, I don't have to ask, what with all the reward bills floating around with your name on them. You know something, I don't think you're the desperate character you're trying to make out."

"Certainly not," I laughed. "I'm pure as the lily in the dell."

"Tiger lily?"

That's the way it was; she always had a comeback. I asked if I could get her a drink, and she declined, giving me the old never-touch-the-stuff
habla
. "Besides," she added, "Shel doesn't like me to do any hard drinking in here."

That caught me up short. Shel! Like the so-and-so owned her or something. Well… A jealous twinge hit me, and I could feel myself beginning to boil. I caught myself before I said something I'd be sorry for later. I reached for my Durham and papers to cover my feelings, then stopped. I said, "You haven't told me your name, yet. Besides Topaz I don't know—"

"Fiddlesticks!" she said impatiently. "If you must know, it is Topaz Teresa O'Flannigan, and let's not have any joke about the name sounding German. I've been through all that."

"I'm beginning to think you've been through a lot," I blurted and then, to cover my confusion, reached for my Durham and cigarette papers, not missing the slow flush that crept into her cheeks. She didn't say anything though, just reached across and took the tobacco and papers from my hand.

Sifting tobacco flakes into a paper, she rolled a cigarette —one-handed!—with the deftness of an expert. I'd never been able to do that as many years as I'd tried, until I gave it up. Placing the cigarette on the table, she rolled a second smoke. I scratched a match and lighted her cigarette and mine.

Through a wave of smoke drifting between us, I heard her say, "My friends call me Topaz."

"And is it okay for me to do the same?"

She dropped her cigarette on the floor, rose and stepped on it. "I'll go see if I can find Shel," she said, turned and crossed the floor, disappearing through a doorway to an adjoining building, which I had guessed was the gambling parlors.

I glanced toward the bar in time to catch the customers looking in my direction. Hondo Crowell said something, but there wasn't any laughter. I heard Turk Hofer growl, "Hondo, you'd best button your lip. Shel don't like remarks of that kind."

What the remark was, I didn't know, but figured it was some snide joke concerning Topaz and me. Whoever she was, the men seemed to treat Topaz with respect, I had to admit that. This Sheldon Webster hombre must run things with an iron rein in Onyxton. And what was back of it all? Why had the girl approached me in such fashion? Was her friendliness just assumed? Maybe it was some sort of recruiting act to make sure I stayed in Onyxton and joined up with the Shel Webster faction. That thought made me damn uncomfortable.

I noticed that I hadn't yet finished my bottle of beer, and while it was warm, I didn't feel like going to the bar where I'd have to mix with the other customers. Then I had an idea.

I raised my voice: "Turk! My beer's gone warm."

Turk nodded. "Be right with you, Mister Cardinal." He dropped what he was doing, and hurried around the end of the bar and placed a cool bottle on my table, removing the other bottle. "That's on the house," he told me with an ingratiating smile.

I said, "Thanks, Turk. You're a real friend."

His smile widened and he seemed to waggle all over like a small puppy getting petted. I laughed inwardly, thinking, a desperate man will try anything sometimes. Now, Turk would boost my stock higher than ever.

I nursed the bottle along, waiting to see if Webster would show up. The batwing entrance doors parted and a man in puncher togs pushed in. Levis, flannel shirt, high-heeled boots. He removed a worn gray sombrero and mopped his forehead before walking farther. Then he donned the hat again and proceeded to the bar, taking a position farther on, away from the other customers. He was a lean, clean-cut looking hombre, around thirty, with dark hair. A Durham tag dangled from a pocket of his open vest. There was a Colt-gun holstered at his right hip. I sort of liked his looks.

He stood waiting at the bar a moment, Turk paying him no attention. Finally he rapped sharply on the counter with a two-bit piece. Turk looked slowly around. "I'll be there in a minute, Tawney," Turk growled. "Hold your hawsses, can't you?"

The man's face flushed, but he just said curtly, "Bring a bottle of beer, when you come."

I knew just how he felt, coming in hot and dusty like that, sweat running down his face. Impulsively, I called to the bartender, "Make sure it's a cold one, Turk."

The men at the bar swung around, jaws agape. Turk shot me a resentful glance, then grunted a short, "Yessir."

I probably should have kept my mouth shut; people would think I was trying to run the Onyx, or something. I noted the bottle was cold-beaded when Turk carried it down to the stranger. The man didn't bother with a glass, but uptilted the bottle to his lips. Three long swallows, then he put down the bottle, turned to me and nodded, briefly. "Thanks, cowboy."

"Don't mention it," I answered just as short.

I switched around in my chair, back to the man, and paid no more attention, until argumentive voices reached my ear. I turned to see what was going on. Three of the customers were gathered close to the stranger, and I could see—Tawney, was it?—getting red in the face, but trying to avoid a quarrel the other three seemed intent on picking. It looked as though Tawney had finished his drink, and was on the point of leaving when the three stopped him.

One of the men was saying, "Aw, hell, why don't you just get out? You ain't wanted in these parts. Use your head, or you'll be sorry, Tawney."

I saw Hondo Crowell edging along to get in on the argument. That didn't look good to me, though the whole business had probably been arranged for him to do just that.

"He'll be sorry if he lives that long," Crowell said nastily.

Tawney pretended not to hear. I could see he was anxious just to leave, without trouble, but by this time he was ringed in.

Another man said, "Look here, Tawney, get smart. Mr. Webster offered to buy your spread. Take your money and git while the gittin's safe."

Tawney ignored that too, and started to push past. Hondo Crowell shifted his big bulk in front of Tawney. "Aw, you're just a goddam Mexican lover, Tawney."

"The Mexicans are my friends," Tawney said curtly. "And better men than you'll ever be."

"By Gawd!" Hondo was working himself into a rage. "You can't say that to me, Hondo Crowell," he roared, "you—" And he called Tawney a name that no man likes to take.

It came then, almost faster'n than I could follow the movement of Tawney's clenched fist. The blow struck Crowell squarely below the eyes, a mite too high to be effective, but hard enough to send Crowell sprawling to his haunches on the floor.

Now, I knew trouble couldn't be avoided any longer.

 

X

I tensed, waiting for what would come next. Cursing like a madman, Crowell was scrambling up from the pine floor. For an instant he stood swaying unsteadily, shaking his head to clear it. His nose looked as though it had been pushed to one side and I saw blood running down his chin.

Another man jumped in with a loud, "You ain't going to hit no friend of mine, Tawney, and think you can get away with it—"

"That's right," another chimed in. "You been lookin' for trouble, Tawney. Now you're goin' to get it."

The men remaining at the bar looked interested, nothing more. Turk was leaning on one hand, elbow on bar, a nasty grin on his face, so there went that damned temper of mine again.

I rapped sharply on the table and got to my feet. "Cut it out!" I snarled, Inwardly quaking.

Crowell had staggered back to the bar, bracing himself, still somewhat groggy, but already I saw his right hand sneaking down to his gun-butt. The others spun around, eyes darting questioning looks at me. My voice had seemed to clear the air slightly. There was a short silence, with all but Crowell looking a trifle uncertain.

His hand had ceased to move toward his gun. Now he bellowed hotly, "What's your gripe, mister?"

I drew my six-shooter and placed it on the table in front of me, close to hand. "Two things," I snapped. "You're one of 'em. I don't like you and I don't like anybody that does." Sure, I knew I was making a deadly enemy, but I didn't want him for a friend. Anyway, I'd gone too far to stop now. "The second, only rats gang up on a victim. I don't like that either. Now, anybody got any objections to my remarks?" I waited. No one said anything. "All right," I continued, "let's have a little quiet around here."

I replaced my gun in holster, thinking,
Migawd, what a bluff
! And I was making it stick. I spoke curtly to Tawney: "All right, mister, you'd best slope out of here, while the going is good."

Tawney pushed past the others and started for the exit. As he passed my table he said, "Much obliged."

"
Por nada
," I replied, "for nothing."

He passed through to the street. My heart was going
bangety-bang
and I could feel the hot sweat running down from my armpits, as reaction set in. But so far, I had it made. One of the men returned to the bar. Crowell and another left the barroom for the outside. Neither looked at me as they went by, though I'd been expecting threats. Probably now I'd have to be on the outlook for some back-shooting skunk. It wasn't a healthy prospect.

BOOK: Shoot Him On Sight
9.51Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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