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Authors: Luke; Short

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BOOK: Hard Money
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“Then he's already spent their money?”

“He never got any. They signed up to subscribe, and then broke their contracts.” He studied his cigar thoughtfully. “You can buy any jury in this district, you know. The court claimed the contracts weren't legal.”

Seay was curious now, watching Tober's face. He knew all this was preliminary to answering his first question, as to who was fighting Bonal. He said then, “But the tunnel is sense. Couldn't these mine owners see that?”

“Ever hear of Janeece?” Tober countered.

Seay nodded. “He owns a couple of reduction mills here.”

“He owns them all,” Tober corrected him. “He's the man that killed the tunnel.”

Seay scowled. “How did he?”

“Laughed it to death,” Tober said curtly. “Janeece understood one thing about this tunnel, I reckon—that when it went through his business was finished. These mines, instead of hoistin' their ore a thousand or so feet and then freighting it five miles to his reduction mills, would shoot it through Bonal's tunnel and down to the reduction mill Bonal aims to build yonder on the river bank. Janeece saw if the tunnel went through he was done for, and he tried to kill it.”

“But how?”

“Janeece's mills are backed by the Pacific-coast banks—to begin with. Of course, they wouldn't loan Bonal any money. Then Janeece, to boot, bought into several mines in the Tronah field and started the rumor the tunnel couldn't be put through. He got engineers to swear to it. Herkenhoff—he's the manager of the Pacific Shares mine—is an agent of Janeece's. He broke his contract with Bonal. The rest did the same. And Bonal didn't get a cent from them.” Tober shook his head slowly and dropped his cigar on the floor. “Bonal's a fighter, but even a fighter's got to eat.”

Seay rubbed a hand over the ledger, back and forth, watching his hand. “What does this Janeece look like?”

“It don't matter,” Tober drawled. “You'll never see him. He works through a dozen men. Without ever leavin' his office there at his big mill, he's killed Bonal's credit all over this country.” Tober was about to elaborate, but he only said briefly, “Men work for him, that's all.”

“But what kind of men?” Seay insisted.

Tober's gaze swung up to him and regarded him thoughtfully. “Men like Chris Feldhake, for one. Herkenhoff for another. But Feldhake is the dangerous kind. He'll do anything for money—from a killin' to a bribe.”

Seay said nothing, thinking, and Tober said quietly into the silence, “You better pack a gun from now on, Seay.”

“Why?”

“Because,” Tober said steadily, “I think you can swing it. I think Bonal's found his man. And if he has, there'll be trouble—real trouble. And it won't be with banks and loans now. It'll be the other kind of trouble.”

Seay looked at him a long time and then dropped his gaze. “Thanks,” he said.

Tober said nothing.

“How much money have we got?” Seay asked then.

“Not enough to meet this week's pay roll,” Tober answered. Their glances met. Seay scoured his face with a hand and then smiled a little, finally laughed shortly. Tober rose now and went over to the safe, and after opening it, pulled out a large cashbox and laid it on the desk. “All we got is in there,” he said quietly.

“Let's count it, then.”

Tober opened the box, and then, his hand still on the lid, paused and looked up at the door. Seay turned. In another moment someone entered the other room.

A sudden flood of anger swept over Seay. This was a woman's step.

Chapter Four

Sharon Bonal stood in the doorway. Seay looked at her a long moment and then took off his hat. Tober grabbed for his too, his face surprised out of its impassiveness.

“Good evening,” Seay said quietly.

Sharon nodded briefly. “Is there any place we can talk?” she asked.

Seay looked at Tober, and Tober tramped stiffly across the room, past Sharon and out.

Seay motioned to the swivel chair, but Sharon seemed not to notice it. There was an expression of cold pride in her face as she said, “I want that note explained.”

“It explains itself,” Seay answered quietly.

“Are
you
to tell me how much I'm to spend?” Sharon asked quietly.

“It seems that way.”

“On whose authority? My father's?”

Seay said quietly, “Sit down, please. This will take some time.” He stood motionless, his tall figure stamped with a kind of ruthless dignity as he waited for her to move. The lamp flame guttered a little with a sudden stir of hot wind, and then Sharon swept across the floor to the swivel chair, Seay's gaze following her with a wary curiosity.

He sat down on the desk then, one leg over the corner. “If your father's memory hasn't failed him, he put two thousand dollars to your account the first of this month. This is the eleventh,” he began quietly.

Sharon said, “I want two thousand dollars. The subject of my money is no business of yours, even if you seem to make it.”

“You won't get it.” Seay's voice was hard, final. “If you won't be reasonable, there's no reason why I should.”

Sharon hated him then, and he could see it in her eyes. He also observed the color creep into her slim throat and up into her face, and he waited quietly for the blow off. It didn't come, for Sharon's reply was temperate, almost apologetic.

“Maybe I have been a little high handed, but you can hardly blame me. Father turned over all his affairs here to a perfect stranger, then skipped out to Mexico City. I think your note was insolent, but then that's a matter of opinion.” She paused, getting Seay's nod. “It happens that Dad has given me money this month. It also happens he told me to go to you if I needed more—and I do need more.”

Seay smiled thinly. “This is a boom camp, Miss Bonal. Food is pretty high—about three dollars for a good meal. A cheap hotel is double that, and a good one about five times that. But it happens your food and rooms are paid for. I made sure of that last night.” He added dryly, “That leaves two thousand for entertainment. Enough, isn't it?”

“I want this money for a loan,” Sharon said coldly.

Seay shook his head. “That's too bad. Your father is fighting for loans, too. He borrows money, you loan it out. It doesn't work.”

Sharon kept silent, studying the hard and ruthless face of him. There was a touch of mocking humor behind those gray eyes, but a long and sober face showed only a granite stubbornness, which only served to strengthen Sharon's own. Still, she had enough earthy common sense to know that this was not a man like Hugh who, at the first sight of a woman's displeasure, gallantly gave in.

Seay was saying, “As long as I haven't been minding my business, I'll step out of line once more. Is the loan for a person in need?”

Sharon considered. “Yes,” she said honestly.

“A friend of yours and your father's?”

“Of course.”

Seay said carefully, “Would less money do?”

“I think not.”

“If it's financial trouble you're being too generous. Your own father has enough of that kind. But if it's for a needy person I should think you could spare a hundred or so from your allowance. If you can't, I can lend it to you.”

“Two thousand dollars,” Sharon repeated firmly. “And I've got to have it before the night stage.”

Seay's eyebrows raised a little. “Someone leaving?”

Sharon nodded imperceptibly, and Seay rose. “All right. I'm going over to Tronah. I'll go with you to see this person,” he said, his eyes steady and watchful.

Sharon made an involuntary movement of protest, and then she knew she was trapped. “I lied,” she said stubbornly. “Nobody is leaving. It's for an order that has to go out on the night stage.”

“Ah,” Seay said quietly. “Now we're down to it. An order for what?”

Sharon raised her furious gaze to his. “You didn't believe me?”

“I don't believe you know anyone in need,” Seay said frankly. “You'd avoid knowing them. An order for what?”

“Champagne!” Sharon said sharply, stamping her foot. “There, you know it! Maizie Comber's husband has refused to pay for the champagne Maizie must order for a party. He's threatening to make her serve rye whisky. I offered to lend her the money!” Her eyes were blazing. “Is there anything criminal in that? Trying to help a friend?”

Seay shook his head and said gently, “It's no dice. No, you can't have the money. And good night, Miss Bonal.”

“But I promised her!” Sharon said angrily, rising. A note of pleading now mingled with the exasperation in her voice.

Seay looked long at her, his fist clenching unconsciously. Impulsively, he reached over and flipped open the top of the cashbox.

“Maybe I'm a little unreasonable,” he drawled softly, pointing to the neat stacks of ragged bank notes in the box. “There's a little over twenty-five hundred dollars in that box. We meet a pay roll of four thousand tomorrow. Your father's in Mexico City. My job is to drive this tunnel through, and that's all the money he left me to do it with.” His hand dropped to his side. “Maybe you can tell me how I'll meet the pay roll this week, let alone next week. Maybe—” and his voice carried the overtones of savage scorn—“you'd like to lend me two thousand dollars from your allowance, so I can meet the pay roll.”

Sharon felt her face go hot.

“Maybe,” Seay went on brutally, “it won't do any good. Maybe Bonal's whole scheme will cave in on him.” He finished bluntly, “Times like this, I hope it does. You might find then how easy it is to pour a man's blood and bones and soul down the throats of your friends, and still have them call it champagne.”

Sharon brushed past him to the door and was almost through it when she stopped and turned. “It might be a good idea for you to leave, Mr. Seay. Father will be in San Francisco tomorrow, and I'm going to the telegraph station now.”

“Yes, it might be a good idea,” Seay conceded. He heard her go out, heard the murmur of voices, and then the trotting of a team of horses which was soon blotted out by the deep silence of the room.

Seay looked down and found that his fists were clenched, and he unfisted them, his gaze on the box. Slowly, reason took over his brain again, and the anger died, leaving only a rooted contempt for this woman. Striding over to the desk, he looked down at the cash-box. He thought he understood Bonal now, and there was anger toward him. Bonal had succeeded thus far by hiring men and sucking them dry, by placing on their shoulders a burden whose enormity crushed them. Like this, here, now, before him. All that held Bonal's tunnel scheme together now was himself, Phil Seay, a gambler, a stubborn man, a new man, and he had something less than twenty-four hours in which to effect a way. Bonal, with that shrewd and ruthless judgment that could gauge to a nicety that precise mixture of vanity and pride and ability that drove a man, had named his man and left him to fight it alone. If Seay won this time, there were other fights. When he lost one, he would go the way Barnes went, and the way of the other five superintendents. It was a hard game Bonal played, and it took hard men to back his hand.

Seay turned away from the box, smiling a little to himself. He paced slowly around the room, his restlessness kindled by the knowledge that this box on the desk held failure for him—failure before he started. Still, if he could meet tomorrow's pay roll and the next, still ramming this tunnel on and on into the Pintwaters, he knew that Bonal would not fail him. All Bonal wanted was a man who wouldn't let him down.

Seay turned his head abruptly and looked again at the box, his breath held. Then he turned to the safe, rummaged inside it and brought out a canvas sack. It was the work of only a few moments to stuff these bank notes and gold into the sack, put the empty box in the safe, lock the safe, blow out the light and lock the building behind him.

Tober was waiting outside, leaning against the bunkhouse, smoking in moody silence.

“Have a horse saddled for me, Reed,” Seay said and walked past him and into the bunkhouse. Tober stood motionless, watching Seay's back. Then he smiled into the night, his thin, secret smile, dropped his cigarette and headed for the corrals.

Inside the bunkhouse, Seay turned up the overhead lamp and went over to his bunk in the corner. From underneath it he dragged out his small trunk and lifted it to the bunk. A moment later he drew out a Colt .44, spun its chamber and felt its loaded weight under his fingers and rammed it into his hip pocket and went out, his heavy boots curiously soundless on the scuffed floor.

From the low pass over the Pintwaters between Tronah and the tunnel, Seay could look down on the sprawling camp below him; its lights drifted across the slope in a careless swarm. Beyond it, closer to the flats, he could pick out the reduction mills, their great chimneys lifting flame up into the night. Raised a pitch above the murmur of the town's activity was the rhythmical pounding of the stamps in the reduction mills. Night and day, this hungry camp was slowly gutting the earth of this mountain, packing out and sorting its treasure with that stubborn patience of which only men and ants are capable.

Seay reined up and regarded it, and he felt a swift and impersonal pride in all this; and he looked beyond it to the star-shot void of the desert, and he was humble then.

Above him and far to the left on the invisible mountains were pin points of light from the mine offices. Occasionally he could catch the flicker of dim lights descending the mountain, and he knew these were the ore freighters, with lanterns on the collars of the lead mules.

Later, he found Tronah teeming as usual, its streets rowdy with its life. Stabling his horse at a feed corral on the edge of town, he moved up the jammed sidewalk.

At Jimmy Hamp's Keno Parlor he left the street and went inside. The reek of beer and whisky and tobacco and smoke and sweat and cheap perfume was rank and clamorous, and as it hit him he winced, patiently working toward the bar. This was the miners' saloon, as frank and big and bawdy as its roughest patron. At the crowded bar he waited, a high, quiet man, for his drink and when he was served by the harried barkeep asked after Jimmy Hamp. Hamp was back at one of the tables, the bartender said.

BOOK: Hard Money
6.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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