Authors: Joe Millard
The bathtub was packed to the rim with bank notes. Molly and Dandy came trotting back, carrying the empty chest between them.
Molly said, "He swore he was only going to return it to the bank. I guess I believed him because I wanted to."
"Ma'am," the hunter said, "you drop a fish back into water and right away he starts to swim. You don't have to tell him to do it or show him how. He just knows—and people aren't so much different from fish. They just do things that come as natural as breathing."
Molly bent down and kissed the startled bounty hunter on the cheek. "You're a great big fake, pretending to be so cold and callous so nobody'll guess you've got a chest full of butter."
The hunter stood by the side of the wagon, puffing on one of his stubby
. The main street of Hangville was almost deserted. A vagrant wind off the desert whipped along the street, sending dust devils scurrying and tumbleweed rolling. It pried up a corner of the tarpaulin that covered the load and set it to flapping.
The bounty hunter hastily caught the flapping tarp and tucked it in more tightly. Some of Hangville's more respectable citizens might have a heart attack if they could have seen that underneath the tarpaulin were dead bodies stacked like cordwood.
Shadrach came out of a doorway down the street and started toward the wagon. He saw the hunter lounging against the wagon, turned to look over his shoulder, then gestured frantically toward a recessed doorway opposite the wagon. The bounty hunter, took a deep pull on his cigar, studied the doorway and stayed where he was.
Shadrach ran up, grabbed him by the arm and shouldered him into the doorway.
"You damned fool," he sputtered. "My God, Sheriff Hipson has sworn to get you if it's the last thing he does in this world. He has a list of charges as long as my arm. And the big deputy, Max somebody-or-other, says he'll kill you on sight. Maybe you don't think
had a merry time convincing them I wasn't tied up with you and had nothing whatever to do with what happened to them."
"You want me to give you a signed affidavit that we never met?"
"Oh, shut up, damn you!" Shadrach growled. "Now listen and listen close. I'll help carry the money chest into the bank and leave it to you to make the best deal you can for the return of their cash. Then you come out and wait for me here in the doorway opposite the wagon. I'll drive the wagon up to Hipson's office, get the bodies unloaded and identified and collect the bounties. How much did we figure it amounted to altogether?"
"Forty-two thousand nine hundred," the hunter said. "On the nose—or just above it."
"I'll collect and meet you back here to divide the bounties
the reward you're picking up at the bank. Then we'll both go to El Paso to collect the reward for finding Apachito's hideout. Afterward we'll go to the mine and dicker for the gold in that wagon Apachito could never spend."
"I trust you," the hunter said. "Remember how far?"
Together they lugged the heavy money chest into the bank and hoisted it onto a counter. Bank President Markert, who had been sitting, talking to a well-dressed stranger, shot to his feet.
"You've got it? You've got the bank's—I mean, the people's money? I remember you. You're that incredible marksman."
"Good," the hunter interrupted coldly. "And I remember you as the penny-pinching banker who offered a miserable twenty-five thousand dollars for the return of a half-million. Any respectable thief in the country would pay at least half and consider it a bargain to retire on."
"Wait," Markert said, waving his arms. "Wait a moment. You weren't around when we raised the reward to
—no, no—I mean, a
thousand dollars. The money
there in the chest, isn't it? Our five hundred thousand?"
"Don't be ridiculous," the bounty hunter said coldly. "Do you think I'd bring my ace in the hole in to let you snatch it before we could bargain?"
"A hundred fifty thousand!" Markert bleated. "Cash in hand. Wait, I'll count it out."
"Count it," the hunter said. He looked at the grandfather clock in the corner. Shadrach should have concluded his bounty deal and was probably waiting by the wagon, shifting impatiently.
He snatched the thick packet of bank notes Markert brought. A superficial count indicated it was at least close to the amount promised. He started to turn away when the well-dressed stranger jumped up.
"Just a moment, young man. To recover the bank's money in this manner, you must have stumbled upon Apachito's hideout. Did you, by any chance, see a wagon marked LUCKY NUGGET MINE? Was it loaded or unloaded?"
The hunter stared at him coldly without replying.
"It's all right," President Markert said hurriedly. "This is Mr. Amtratt, owner of the Lucky Nugget. He is here to discuss the possibility of increasing the reward from twenty to twenty-five percent of the gold's value. That would amount now to roughly one hundred and twenty-two thousand dollars."
"I'll lead you right to your wagon," the hunter said. "The gold has never been unloaded and even your team is picketed out there. So let's see if you're a fast draw on the purse."
The bounty hunter stopped outside the bank. He counted out twenty-five thousand dollars and planted it in one pocket The remainder of the vast roll was distributed throughout his clothing. He stalked down the street to the doorway. The wagon, empty now of its moldering burden, stood in front of the sheriff's office. There was no sign of Shadrach.
The bounty hunter stepped into the doorway, watching up the street He saw a grizzled oldster plodding along the boardwalk. The old man stopped, peering into the empty wagon with an old man's curiosity, then shaded his eyes to peep through the window of the sheriff's office. He turned finally and came on down the street, muttering to himself.
The hunter stepped out to block the way. "Hold it, old timer. Did you see a tall stranger in a frock coat in there with Sheriff Hipson?"
The old man gaped at him. "Where the hell you been the last couple of days, stranger? Didn't you know somebody handcuffed Ben and his thievin' deputy together, back-to-back, and shot 'em both through the head. Good riddance, I say. Big Matt Dillson's actin' sheriff until we can hold a interim election, whatever t'hell that is. Now, what the hell put the bumblebee up your ass, boy?"
The bounty hunter was charging down the street, swearing under his breath. He burst into the tiny sheriff's office. A big, blonde man behind the desk looked up.
"I'm Matt Dillson, stranger. Can I help you?"
"The big man in the frock coat—he was here collecting bounties..."
"He sure as hell was," the acting sheriff said. "I never did see money go out so damn fast as when he laid his claims and proved 'em. Now the Territory's stuck to pay the goddamnedest undertakin' bill we ever had. He a friend of yours, stranger?"
"A close friend," the hunter said through his teeth. "
close. Where is he?"
"Oh," the acting sheriff said. "He climbed out the back window after he collected his cash. Said some weird character was follerin' him everywhere he went and he was scared he'd get robbed. He did leave a envelope for somebody and it sure as hell looks like he was describin' you, so here it is."
The hunter slit open the sealed envelope, knowing in advance what he would find. Inside was two hundred and sixty dollars in small bills, together with a brief note.
"Sorry I couldn't wait but enclosed is your payment, at ten dollars apiece, for the wanted outlaws you helped me collect on. If I should need your valuable help at any time in the future I will be most happy to again employ your peculiar talents." It was signed: "Shadrach."
The bounty hunter started to swear, then broke off and began to laugh. He touched the unnatural bulges in the pockets beneath the poncho and his laughter became a howl of glee. The acting sheriff stared at him, then reached into the drawer of his desk for a dog-eared copy of the Laws of the Territory. Somewhere in it was a paragraph on the handling of violent lunatics.
The following are edits/changes i made to the original text:
from: prefered horseback
to: preferred horseback
from: midly disappointed
to: mildly disappointed
from: lit out for here with the news
to: lit out for here with the news.
from: Its obvious
to: It's obvious
from: swept out by the rushing floor
to: swept out by the rushing flood
from: The hunter leaned for over
to: The hunter leaned far over
from: Minutes past before the twin reappeared
to: Minutes passed before the twin reappeared