Authors: Joe Millard
Shadrach slapped his forehead. "Oh, my God! Now I've heard everything! I don't know how you got away from those two but they didn't just pat you on the back and tell you to run along." He slapped a small, collapsible telescope on a thong looped over the saddle horn. "I saw you lock the sheriff's door and drop the key through the sidewalk. So, whatever you did to them, they'll break out or somebody'll break in all too soon. They'll come after you and there you'll be, like a crippled duck in a rain barrel, just waiting to be caught. What do you intend to do when they show up?"
"Why," the hunter said mildly, "I hadn't given it a thought. Liven up my act with a little extra gunplay, I suppose."
The tent and equipment were set up, the props arranged and everything in readiness for the afternoon's performance by the time the bounty hunter rode in. Dandy was pacing back and forth like a caged tiger in front of the stage. He planted his fist on his hips and glared.
"Where the hell have you been? You've been gone almost five hours. Haven't I got enough worries on my mind without wondering if you've run out on me?"
"If I do, Dandy, you can be sure I'll take my guns with me." He swung down, got his rifle out of its boot and leaned it against the stage. "What's your big worry now?"
Dandy pointed northward. "
my big worry."
When the bounty hunter rode away in the morning, the jagged peaks of the Horse Range had loomed in purple majesty across the horizon. Now the whole broad sweep of broken range had lost its sharpness and many of the higher peaks were almost totally obscured by gathering clouds. The hunter shrugged.
"You mean the mountain storm? That's nothing uncommon. Up in the high country you can expect those almost any time. I don't see why it should bother you."
"Because it isn't your money, that's why," Dandy shouted. "Everything I've got is tied up in this circus. The wind's from that direction. Suppose it blows the storm down here and today's performance is rained out? That means
take a big loss. All you take is a day off."
"That's about as unlikely as anything I can think of. Any rain down here at this time of year would be a seven-day wonder. But if it makes you feel better to worry about it, you go right ahead."
He unsaddled, exchanged the bridle for a halter and led his horse over to the shady willow thicket where the other stock was tethered. When he returned, Dandy, unconvinced, was still pacing and muttering to himself.
"Now that you reminded me, speaking of money," the hunter said, "it seems to me this is the day some is supposed to drop from your clutching hands into mine as sort of token payment, shall we say, for my contribution to your prosperity."
"Prosperity, he calls it!" Dandy rolled his eyes heavenward. "He cashes in a fortune in bounties at my expense, and still demands his pound of flesh." He caught a glimpse of the hunter's cold eyes and added hastily, "Don't take me serious, Nameless. I'm only funning with you. Wait right here and I'll bring your pay."
He clambered into his wagon and emerged a few minutes later with an envelope of bank notes and a pack of playing cards. He handed the envelope to the bounty hunter.
"There's your pay. You earned it, Nameless. With a gun, you're the nerviest gent I've ever seen, but I wonder how your nerves are with a deck of cards. I'll cut high card with you for that envelope, double or nothing."
"Why not?" the hunter said. "Providing I shuffle, cut and deal. I've seen how
can make cards do everything but sing Yankee Doodle."
Dandy pretended to hesitate but there was a sly glint in his eye.
"All right. I'll be a sport. Go ahead." The bounty hunter took the pack in his left hand, his right hanging down at his side. Using only the one hand, he put the deck through a dazzling sequence of shuffles and cuts that had Dandy's eyes bulging. He finished by slapping two cards down, face-up. Dandy's was the three of clubs, his own the jack of diamonds.
"My, my," he murmured shaking his head in mock wonder. "It looks like luck is turning my way at last."
, you sonofabitch!" Dandy said bitterly. "And with my own cards, too—that I marked myself! All the time I've been thinking you were a pilgrim. I've pulled that or seen it pulled on the chumps a thousand times, but never one
handed until now. How'd you come to learn that stunt?"
"I saw a fast gunman killed because he had both hands occupied with shuffling and dealing when the other fellow drew. I swore I'd learn to do it left-handed, leaving my gun hand free, or give up gambling. So I learned. You want to try it again, double or nothing?"
"Go to hell! I'll get the money you won, you crook."
When he returned, The Man With No Name had brought out rags and equipment and was carefully cleaning and oiling his guns. Dandy slammed a sheaf of bills down on the stand.
"There's your loot, you slicker. Getting roped in is bad enough, but to get taken at my own game and with my own cards is piling insult on top of injury. Now I
we'll get rained out. This is one of those days when anything that happens to me is bound to be bad." He turned to glare up toward the mountains. "If you don't believe me, take a look at it now."
The hunter swung around. The storm clouds were thickening and settling lower around the Horse peaks. Occasionally the darker clouds were laced with threads of lightning. He nodded.
"From the looks, it'll probably be a corker up in the high country, but I still say we won't see a drop of rain down here. If you're so dead sure I'm wrong, put up your money and I'll match it."
" Dandy demanded sourly. "You think I'm crazy? Today I could bet that round yellow ball up there is the sun and the damn thing would somehow turn out to be the moon." He got out his case watch and glared at it. "Twelve noon. Two more hours until show time. If the crowd'd get here early I could collect their money ahead of the rain and then figure out some excuse not to give 'em refunds."
"What beats me," the hunter said, "is how you ever managed to last this long without getting lynched."
Dandy tapped his temple. "The head, mister. The head."
After noon dinner, Dandy went back to his pacing and his worrying. The storm clouds in the north were still building up, looking even blacker against the background of the brassy sky. It was still too early to expect customers.
The bounty hunter got his saddle and bridle and carried them up the slope to the parked wagons. Hunk had brought up the horses, including his bay, and staked them out to graze in the shade of the wagons. Up here they were less apt to be unnerved by the racketing gunfire of his act. The white horse Cora rode bareback as Bobo the Clown was still picketed behind the stage below. The black on which she made her dramatic entrance in the empty coffin act was hidden in a clump of willows close behind the dressing tent.
On the slim chance that Dandy's pessimistic prediction of a rain-out might come true, the hunter stored his gear under the lead wagon. As he straightened up, Dandy emerged from inside the wagon. The aroma of whiskey and cloves emerged with him. He grinned sheepishly.
"Don't say anything to Molly. I get enough hell from her about drinking too much as it is. But the way this day is going, I'd never get through it without a bracer. How about you? You want a slug or two?"
"Maybe later. I'm half expecting company and I don't want anything to interfere with a proper greeting."
Curley Bick stepped out from behind the wagon. His cocked gun was leveled at the bounty hunter and his face was dark with fury.
"You already got company, you sonofabitch! Now go ahead and greet me proper. Try reachin' under that goddam nightgown for your gun. Just
it. I'm achin' for an excuse to give you a lead bellybutton. Not that I need more excuse than I already got."
Dandy broke in, his voice shrill and unsteady, "Wait a minute, friend! Hold it! I don't know who you are or what your quarrel is, but it's got nothing to do with me. So I'll just go along and tend to my own business and leave you two to settle your argument by yourselves."
He started a tentative move as if to turn away. The gun in Curley Bick's hand shifted.
"If you'd rather get it in the back, just keep turning. Between the shoulder blades or in the gut, it's all the same to me."
"Now you look here
The hunter said sharply, "Shut up, Dandy! He isn't bluffing."
"Y' goddam right I ain't bluffin', an' you know it. I already killed one skunk today an' I come out here to kill me another, but I'd as soon make it the two of you. You bastard, blabbin' to Ben Hipson about the three-thousand-dollar bounty on me, hopin' to stir up trouble for me. He already knew it and as you left, he come back over to warn me a bounty killer was after me."
"I was hoping that's what he'd do," the hunter said. "I figured that would be the best way to get you out of town."
"I'm out of town now," Curley cried, his voice thick with rage, "so let's see you try to do something about it."
"All right," the hunter said. "Since you insist," and shot the outlaw in the head with the tiny double-barreled derringer that dropped from his left sleeve into his hand. He raised his voice. "You can come now, Shad. It's safe."
Shadrach came around the back of the wagon, tucking the long-barreled gun back into its holster.
"How did you know I was there?"
"Saw your shadow."
"Then, you damn fool, why didn't you let me take him instead of making your play when he had you covered? If his gun had been filed to a hair trigger, you'd be as dead as he is now."
The bounty killer grinned thinly. "Let you grab another prize from me after I've gone to all the trouble of setting it up? Don't be a jackass—
Dandy had been gaping from the pair to the body of Curley Bick, a dazed look in his eyes. He closed his mouth with an effort and swallowed noisily. For once in his life he was speechless.
Shadrach heaved a loud mock sigh and shrugged hugely. "Oh, well, I suppose fifteen hundred is better than nothing."
The hunter's expression sharpened. "
"What fifteen hundred? Why, my share of the reward, of course. The partnership, remember? Fifty-fifty right down the line—
Dandy found a thread of voice. "Will somebody kindly tell me who this fellow is and what all this is about? Or is that asking too much?"
"Yes," The Man With No Name said.
There was an interruption from the direction of Hangville. Racing out past the Hanging Tree came a light buckboard wagon, the team at a dead run, the driver lashing them with his whip in an effort to achieve still greater speed. The wagon was bouncing so violently over the rough ground that a large box in the wagon bed threatened to fly out at any moment. Racing beside the wagon was a lone horseman. He was hatless, a shock of white hair whipping in the wind.
"Someone's in an all-fired hurry," Shadrach said.
"The Devil must be chasing them," the hunter said, "because I don't see any Indians and those are the only two reasons I can think of to risk a broken neck driving like that on this kind of rough ground."
They were abreast of the circus wagons and only a few hundred yards out when it happened. A front wheel of the wagon struck a rock outcropping and collapsed with a rending crash and the snapping of spokes.
The front end of the wagon wrenched sideways and down. The hub tore into the ground, throwing up a blinding cloud of dust that obscured the wagon. The driver came somersaulting out of the cloud, still clinging to the reins. He landed heavily on his back, rolled and skidded a dozen yards and lay still.
The rider whirled his horse in another cloud of dust and came tearing back. He sprang down and knelt beside the driver. Apparently the man only had his breath knocked out, for after a moment he managed to sit up, then struggle to his feet with the help of the white-haired man.
With the collapse of the wagon wheel, the hunter, Dandy and Shadrach all started running toward the wreck. They pounded up as the driver was helped to his feet. He was still fighting noisily to get his breath. His clothes were a tattered ruin and he appeared to be a mass of scratches and bruises but there seemed to be no serious injury.
"Can we do anything for you?" Dandy panted as they ran
"Thanks," the white-haired man said, bitterly, "but I'm afraid there's nothing anyone can do for us now. We tried our best, only to be defeated by a miserable hunk—" He broke off and peered sharply at the trio. "Wait! Aren't you Dandy Deever, the circus owner?"
"Right," Dandy nodded. "But I don't remember
"We've never met, sir. I am Davis Markert, president of the First Bank of Hangville and a rabid circus fan. I was fortunate enough to be in Kreb's Notch the day you were there and dropped everything to see your performance. I've seen every medicine show and circus that ever came within fifty miles and I must say yours surpassed them all."