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Authors: Luke; Short

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BOOK: Hard Money
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As he opened the door, Seay palmed up the gun and held it low, stepping in the room and aside for Tober to enter.

Mathias, Yates, House and Feldhake were still playing. They looked up at Seay, and then they were motionless. Only Yates bothered to notice Tober's presence.

“Stand up, Feldhake,” Seay said gently.

Tober drew his gun now, perhaps warned of what was coming, and without noticing him, Seay rammed his own gun in his belt. Feldhake didn't move, and his uneasy smile didn't change.

“You played the wrong man for a Hiram this trip, Feldhake,” Seay said. “It was pretty—only it was crude.”

He glanced down at the stack of chips in front of Feldhake. “Cash his chips, Yates, and give me the money—four thousand.”

Yates turned his head slowly, and when he was looking full at Feldhake, he said, “What is this, Chris?”

“Robbery, maybe,” Feldhake said idly, softly.

“Two in twenty minutes then, Yates,” Seay said, not looking at the marshal. “A couple of buckos knocked me over the head in the corral lot downstreet and took the money. It'll get back to Feldhake, so I'll take it now.”

“But—” Yates began, when Seay cut in, “Jimmy Hamp, Marshal. First I thought Feldhake threw a note out the window, but it was Hamp that Feldhake got to. Cash those chips, Yates.”

“But it could have been plain robbery,” Yates said mildly.

“That was tomorrow's pay roll for the tunnel crew,” Seay murmured. “I don't know who told Feldhake we were short, but I'll find out. Cash those chips, Yates.”

Feldhake said mildly, “You do, Ferd, and it's trouble.”

Seay put a hand on Mathias' chair and wrenched it, and Mathias was out of the way to let him stride over to Feldhake.

Feldhake was half risen, his hand brushing the skirt of his coat aside when Seay hit him, and he crashed over his chair to sprawl on the floor.

Seay followed him and stamped on the wrist of his hand that had hold of his gun, and when the gun fell he kicked it across the room.

Feldhake rose, lunging against the buffet, and he turned and grabbed a bottle by its neck, just as Seay crashed into him. The buffet went over, and Feldhake, off balance, dropped the bottle to claw at the sofa arm, which braced him.

The impact of Seay's body against Feldhake made the lamp overhead dance, and Yates dodged aside. The sound of knuckle-studded fist in unpadded flesh smacked loud against an echoing grunt, and then the two men met, both upright, both slugging.

Each savage drive of Seay's fist caught Feldhake in the face, but it only served to keep him where he was, not to drive him back, and then Seay missed, and they clinched. For five long seconds there was that gagging sound of indrawn breath as they wrestled, and then Feldhake heaved. When Seay crashed against the thin wall then, a window slammed down with a crack like the report of a gun.

Seay came in again, this time more quickly, lacing over long whipping blows that caromed off Feldhake's lowered head. Feldhake stumbled forward, his big arms flailing, and on the heel of a bone-cracking uppercut from Seay, his head came up. Seay was to the side now, and the blow behind Feldhake's ear that was given so quickly Yates could not see was what sent Feldhake to the floor.

Seay was on him, and then under him, dragged by those thick arms whose muscles ripped through the sleeve of Feldhake's shirt as they coiled and sawed and steadied. For a long moment they lay tied up side by side, and then slowly Seay's head went back under Feldhake's outspread palm, and then Feldhake's fist came down on Seay's jaw, with the motion of a man stamping a letter with doubled fist. It gave Feldhake time to try to rise; but coming off the floor Seay caught him at his knees and rose, and in one terrific heave, lifted him clear of the floor, shoulder high. Feldhake hung there for one dragging second, and then he crashed to the floor.

His breath went out in a cough, and he tried to move, but Seay was astride him, pumping both fists into his face. Feldhake made a tentative, awkward move to rise, then lay back, quiet. Still Seay slugged at his face.

“That's enough, Phil,” Tober said.

Obediently, Seay stopped and rested both hands on Feldhake's chest and dragged in great sobs of breath, head hung. The others waited, silent, until he looked up and then got unsteadily to his feet.

Somehow, the table had been shoved into a corner. The three blackjack hands lay still undisturbed.

“The cash, Yates,” Seay said, still panting.

Yates was regarding Feldhake, who had not moved. He shifted his gaze to Seay and said, “Is that straight? Did Jimmy Hamp put them on you?”

Seay nodded.

“All right,” Yates said.

Hugh Mathias cleared his throat, and Yates counted out four thousand dollars, mostly in gold pieces, which he took out of the cigar box in the overturned buffet.

He didn't say anything as Seay wheeled and went out the door. Tober closed it gently on these three men who were looking at each other, and then at the man on the floor.

Downstairs, Seay approached Jimmy Hamp's office and flung open the door, and Tober slid in before it swung shut.

Jimmy Hamp was having a drink with a man, and when the door opened he looked up at Seay. Slowly his face settled into slackness; only his eyes were wary and defeated.

Seay said, “It didn't work, Jimmy.”

Jimmy looked at Tober and then, almost idly, he noted the torn clothes, the ribboned shirt, the ripped trousers of Seay. Presently he dragged his gaze up to Seay's face.

“No,” he said quietly. “It didn't work.” He put a soft hand to his face and scoured his cheek with it and said, “I'm sorry Phil. I guess I don't have to tell you the rest.”

Seay went out quietly, the anguish in his eyes as eloquent as that in Jimmy Hamp's, and Reed Tober closed the door without cursing.

Chapter Five

After the women had left the room Hugh Mathias signaled the waiter for more port. He accepted the box of cigars from the waiter and passed them around himself. Abe Comber belched and refused one, and while Blaine Mack and John Widows lighted up Abe gnawed off a corner of a thin plug of tobacco and tucked the remainder in the pocket of his dress waistcoat. As the waiter leaned over his shoulder to pour his wine, Abe put a rough hand over his glass and said, “Bring me rye,” and then regarded Hugh, who was lighting his own cigar before he sat down. Pleasant smoke filled this paneled lamplit room.

Abe Combers's seat was at the foot of the table, opposite Sharon, but now that she was gone the center of attention seemed to devolve on him. It always did, for his rough backwoods frame and hard muscular face reflected a careless knowledge of power. If he had been only a mine manager, as these others here were, rather than the richest man on the Tronah Lode, he still would have commanded this room. And he achieved it by seeming to have a bullheaded disregard for things that were conventional and expected of him. Above all, he thoroughly enjoyed a total immunity from boredom; perhaps that was the secret of his power.

“Hugh,” Abe began casually, breaking right into a conversation between Mack and Widows and silencing it, “I damn near got in a fight today. Mighty, mighty close.”

Hugh raised his eyebrows and waited for Abe to go on.

“A funny thing, too,” Abe continued. “I didn't understand it rightly until it was too late.” He tilted back in his chair. “Over you,” he added.

“Over me?”

“Unh-huh. It was up in Judge Baily's law office. We were talking about the disappearance of three witnesses to a claim jumping. Know anything about it?”

Hugh scowled and then laughed shortly. “I never saw a claim jumped in my life. Was I a witness?”

“No, Judge Baily went at it kind of backhanded. I claimed I wouldn't blame a witness for disappearing if he knew he'd only get in trouble by testifying. Baily claimed that it was his duty to testify, and that the safest thing to do was lay the information before the authorities and ask for protection. If he didn't do it, he was criminally negligible.”

“What's that got to do with me?” Hugh inquired, frowning good-naturedly.

Abe regarded him with sober speculation. Mack and Widows were looking puzzled. “Nothing then. Only later, down at the Fifty Two Club, it came to me that Baily was directly defaming you.”

“But I never saw a claim jumped in my life,” Hugh protested.

“This man at the club was talkin' about a poker game he'd heard about,” Abe drawled. “He contends a properly staked claim was jumped—and with both feet.” A trace of a smile played at the corners of Abe's wide mouth.

“In fact,” Abe went on solemnly, “he claims you were one of the three-four witnesses.”

For a moment, Hugh's face was plainly blank, and then something clicked, and he took his cigar from his mouth and laughed. Abe laughed with him, leaving Mack and Widows completely in the dark.

“That,” Hugh said, “is substantially correct. I refuse to testify.”

“Then it did happen?” Abe asked.

Hugh inclined his head. “It did.”

“How?”

Hugh tapped the ashes of his cigar into the tray and rose, looking down at Abe. “I learned something at that poker game, Abe. A man can have eyes and still can't see. It stood me so well that I still believe in it.”

“But what happened?”

“You ask the other three witnesses.” He tapped his shirt front with his thumb. “I let the claim jumpers talk first.”

“You young whelp,” Abe growled. “I talked to Yates.”

Hugh had his watch out, looking at it, and he said to Abe as he put it back in his pocket, “Yates knows, Abe. He came awful close to getting his own claim jumped.” He looked at Widows and Mack, and then again at Abe. “I'm sorry, but I've got an appointment tonight, so you'll have to excuse me.”

They nodded, and Hugh turned to the door. Passing Abe, he laid a hand on Abe's shoulder and said, “Charles Bonal had the best hunch of his life there.”

Abe grunted, chuckling quietly, and Hugh waved to the others and stepped out into the hall. He walked down it to the spacious living room and opened the closet door to get his hat.

Sharon stepped out of an adjoining room, leaving the door ajar behind her. She crossed swiftly over to Hugh, who had his hat in his hand.

“Time to run, darling,” he said.

Sharon's face didn't register Hugh's words. She put a hand on his arm and said, “Hugh, Maizie has been telling the most amazing thing about this man Seay. Is it true?”

“About the poker game? Yes.”

“You were there and saw it,” she said.

Hugh nodded, watching her face. “I was. Amazing hardly describes it.”

“But why didn't you tell me?”

Hugh shrugged. “It's rather a personal matter of Seay's, I thought. I didn't blame him.”

“Didn't blame him!” Sharon exclaimed.

“He was robbed. He seemed to know who robbed him and acted first and found out afterwards.” He laughed shortly. “At any rate, the tunnel had pay day Saturday. They tell me Seay's put up a yardage bonus, and the crew is working like fury.”

“But won't they do something to him?” Sharon exclaimed. “It was robbery of the worst kind.”

Hugh shrugged.

“I think you admire him, Hugh!” Sharon accused.

“I do—in a way.”

“After his insolence to me?”

Hugh patted her hand. “He meant it when he said he didn't have money. Besides, I still think you should have come to me.”

“Perhaps I'll have to after this,” Sharon said angrily. “After that telegram from Dad, I certainly don't intend to ask him for another dollar.”

“It would be easier if you didn't.”

Maizie came out of the adjoining room then with the wives of Mack and Widows. Maizie left them and came over to Hugh and Sharon.

“Is it true, Hugh, about this rip of a Seay?” Maizie demanded.

“Yes, Abe probably had the straight of it.”

Maizie turned to Sharon. “Sharon, you're going to take me over to meet him tomorrow.”

“I am not!” Sharon said hotly.

“Will you, Hugh?” Maizie asked.

Sharon said quickly, “If you do, Hugh, I'll be furious. A common tough!”

Hugh looked at Maizie and laughed. “I can't risk that, Maizie.”

“All right,” Maizie said grimly. “I'll go myself. I'm going to invite him to my party.” She sniffed at Sharon and winked broadly. “Young woman, hard-bellied men like that are so scarce in this camp that I don't intend to stand on ceremony.”

She turned and crossed the room, her silks swishing, to join the other two women, and Hugh and Sharon, arm in arm, went down the hall to the outside door.

“Maizie isn't funny at times,” Sharon said quietly, and then laughed at herself. “She'll do just that, Hugh. You wait and see.”

At the door, Hugh said, “I'm sorry about having to leave, but it couldn't be avoided. You understand?”

Sharon patted his arm in understanding, and then, anxiety on her face, she said, “Hugh, do you think Janeece wants to see you about—about tunnel business?”

“It's likely.”

Sharon sighed. “Why, oh, why does that man have to be such an octopus?”

“I've wondered,” Hugh said quietly, grimly. “I don't like it either, Sharon. I'm heart and soul and body for your father, but at times like this my hands are tied.” He looked down into her eyes. “I'm engineering a redistribution of stock, darling. Maybe when that's settled I can be a little more independent of him.”

Sharon stood on tiptoe and kissed him, then closed the door softly. Hugh went below and through the lobby to the gig hitched just above the hotel, and while his driver handled the fretting horses through the crawling traffic, Hugh lighted a cigar and lounged back in the seat. A worried frown stamped his face, and he was suddenly and deeply disgusted with this camp. He threw away his cigar, and as they pulled out of the thick traffic of the streets and the horses stepped out, he regarded the night in moody silence.

BOOK: Hard Money
7.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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