Part of: DEAD MAN'S CACHE
From: Brand Blotters
Flatray swung around Old Baldy through the sparse timber that edged its
roots. He knew this country well; for he had run cattle here, and combed
the draws and ridges on the annual spring and fall round-ups.
There was no trail to follow. Often the lay of the land forced him to a
detour; for it was rough with washes, with matted cactus, and with a thick
growth of netted mesquite and underbrush. But true as the needle of a
compass, he turned back always to the direction he was following. He had
the instinct for direction, sharpened almost to infallibility by the
experience his work had given him.
So, hour after hour, he swung forward, pushing his horse over the ground
in a sort of running walk, common to the plains. Sunset found him climbing
from the foothills into the mountains beyond. Starlight came upon him in a
saddle between the peaks, still plodding up by winding paths to the higher
altitudes that make the ridge of the continent's backbone.
The moon was up long before he struck a gulch spur that led to Elkhorn
canyon. Whether he would be in time or not--assuming that he had guessed
aright as to the destination of the outlaws--he could not tell. It would
be, at best, a near thing. For, though he had come more directly, they had
followed a trail which made the going much faster. Fast as the cow pony
could pick its way along the rock-strewn gulch, he descended, eye and ear
alert to detect the presence of another human being in this waste of
boulders, of moonlit, flickering shadows, of dark awesome peaks.
His quick ear caught the faintest of sounds. He slipped from the saddle
and stole swiftly forward to the point where the gulch joined the main
canyon. Voices drifted to him--the sound of careless laughter, wafted by
the light night wind. He had missed the outlaws by scarce a hundred yards.
There was nothing for it but to follow cautiously. As he was turning to go
back for his horse the moon emerged from behind a cloud and flooded the
canyon with a cold, silvery light. It showed Jack a man and a horse
standing scarce twenty yards from him. The man had his back to him. He had
dismounted, and was tightening the cinches of his saddle.
Flatray experienced a pang of disappointment. He was unarmed. His second
thought sent him flying noiselessly back to his horse. Deftly he unloosed
the rope which always hung coiled below the saddle horn. On tiptoe he ran
back to the gulch mouth, bearing to the right, so as to come directly
opposite the man he wanted. As he ran he arranged the lariat to his
satisfaction, freeing the loop and making sure that the coil was not
bound. Very cautiously he crept forward, taking advantage for cover of a
boulder which rose from the bed of the gulch.
The man had finished tightening the girth. His foot rose to the stirrup.
He swung up from the ground, and his right leg swept across the flank of
the pony. It did not reach the stirrup; for, even as he rose, Jack's
lariat snaked forward and dropped over his head to his breast. It
tightened sharply and dragged him back, pinioning his arms to his side.
Before he could shake one of them free to reach the revolver in his chaps,
he was lying on his back, with Flatray astride of him. The cattleman's
left hand closed tightly upon his windpipe, while the right searched for
and found the weapon in the holster of the prostrate man.
Not until the steel rim of it pressed against the teeth of the man beneath
him did Jack's fingers loosen. "Make a sound, and you're a dead man."
The other choked and gurgled. He was not yet able to cry out, even had he
any intention of so doing. But defiant eyes glared into those of the man
who had unhorsed and captured him.
"Where are your pals bound for?" Flatray demanded.
He got no answer in words, but sullen eyes flung out an obstinate refusal
to give away his associates.
"I reckon you're one of the Roaring Fork outfit," Jack suggested.
"You know so darn much I'll leave you to guess the rest," growled the
"The first thing I'll guess is that, if anything happens to Simon West,
you'll hang for it, my friend."
"You'll have to prove some things first."
Flatray's hand slid into the man's coat pocket, and drew forth a piece of
black cloth that had been used as a mask.
"Here's exhibit A, to begin with."
The man on the ground suddenly gave an upward heave, grasped at the
weapon, and let out a yell for help that echoed back from the cliff, while
the cattleman let the butt of the revolver crash heavily down upon his
face. The heavy gun came down three times before the struggling outlaw
would subside, and then not before blood streamed from ugly gashes into
"I've had enough, damn you!" the fellow muttered sullenly. "What do you
want with me?"
"You'll go along with me. Let out another sound, and I'll bump you off.
Get a move on you."
Jack got to his feet and dragged up his prisoner. The man was a heavy-set,
bowlegged fellow of about forty, hard-faced, and shifty-eyed--a frontier
miscreant, unless every line of the tough, leathery countenance told a
falsehood. But he had made his experiment and failed. He knew what manner
of man his captor was, and he had no mind for another lesson from him. He
slouched to his horse, under propulsion of the revolver, and led the
animal into the gulch.
Both mounted, Jack keeping the captive covered every moment of the time;
and they began to retrace the way by which the young cattleman had just
After they had ridden about a quarter of a mile Flatray made a
readjustment of the rope. He let the loop lie loosely about the neck of
the outlaw, the other end of it being tied to the horn of his own saddle.
Also, he tied the hands of the man in such a way that, though they were
free to handle the bridle rein, he could not raise them from the saddle as
high as his neck.
"If you make any sudden moves, you'll be committing suicide. If you yell
out, it will amount to about the same thing. It's up to you to be good,
The man cursed softly. He knew that the least attempt to escape or to
attract the attention of his confederates would mean his undoing.
Something about this young man's cold eye and iron jaw told him that he
would not hesitate to shoot, if necessary.
Voices came to them from the canyon. Flatray guessed that a reconnaissance
of the gulch would be made, and prepared himself for it by deflecting his
course from the bed of the arroyo at a point where the walls fell back
to form a little valley. A little grove of aspens covered densely the
shoulder of a hillock some fifty yards back, and here he took his stand.
He dismounted, and made his prisoner do the same.
"Sit down," he ordered crisply.
"To keep me from blowing the top of your head off," answered Jack
Without further discussion, the man sat down. His captor stood behind him,
one hand on the shoulder of his prisoner, his eyes watching the point of
the gulch at which the enemy would appear.
Two mounted men showed presently in silhouette. Almost opposite the grove
they drew up.
"Mighty queer what has become of Hank," one of them said. "But I don't
reckon there's any use looking any farther. You don't figure he's aiming
to throw us down--do you, Buck?"
"Nope. He'll stick, Hank will. But it sure looks darned strange. Here's
him a-ridin' along with us, and suddenly he's missin'. We hear a yell, and
go back to look for him. Nothin' doin'. You don't allow the devil could
have come for him sudden--do you, Jeff?"
It was said with a laugh, defiantly, but none the less Jack read
uneasiness in the manner of the man. It seemed to him that both were eager
to turn back. Giant boulders, carved to grotesque and ghostly shapes by a
million years' wind and water, reared themselves aloft and threw shadows
in the moonlight. The wind, caught in the gulch, rose and fell in
unearthly, sibilant sounds. If ever fiends from below walk the earth, this
time and place was a fitting one for them. Jack curved a hand around his
mouth, and emitted a strange, mournful, low cry, which might have been the
scream of a lost soul.
Jeff clutched at the arm of his companion. "Did you hear that, Buck?"
"What--what do you reckon it was, Jeff?"
Again Jack let his cry curdle the night.
The outlaws took counsel of their terror. They were hardy, desperate men,
afraid of nothing mortal under the sun. But the dormant superstition in
them rose to their throats. Fearfully they wheeled and gave their horses
the spur. Flatray could hear them crashing through the brush.
He listened while the rapid hoofbeats died away, until even the echoes
fell silent. "We'll be moving," he announced to his prisoner.
For a couple of hours they followed substantially the same way that Jack
had taken, descending gradually toward the foothills and the plains. The
stars went out, and the moon slid behind banked clouds, so that the
darkness grew with the passing hours. At length Flatray had to call a
"We'll camp here till morning," he announced when they reached a grassy
The horses were hobbled, and the men sat down opposite each other in the
darkness. Presently the prisoner relaxed and fell asleep. But there was no
sleep for his captor. The cattleman leaned against the trunk of a
cottonwood and smoked his pipe. The night grew chill, but he dared not
light a fire. At last the first streaks of gray dawn lightened the sky. A
quarter of an hour later he shook his captive from slumber.
"Time to hit the trail."
The outlaw murmured sleepily, "How's that, Dunc? Twenty-five thousand
"Wake up! We've got to vamose out of here."
Slowly the fellow shook the sleep from his brain. He looked at Flatray
sullenly, without answering. But he climbed into the saddle which Jack had
cinched for him. Dogged and wolfish as he was, the man knew his master,
and was cowed.
Next: The Tables Turned