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A Clean Up







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

A slight accident occurred at the jail, one so unimportant that Scanlan
the jailer did not think it worth reporting to his chief. Blackwell, while
eating, knocked a glass from the table and broke it on the cement floor of
his cell. There is a legend to the effect that for want of a nail a battle
was lost. By reason of a bit of glass secreted in his bed something quite
as important happened to the convict.

From the little table in his room he pried loose one of the corner braces.
At night he scraped away at this with his bit of glass until the wood
began to take the shape of a revolver. This he carefully blacked with the
ink brought him by his guard. To the end of his weapon he fitted an iron
washer taken from the bedstead. Then he waited for his opportunity.

His chance came through the good nature of Scanlan. The jailer was in the
habit of going down town to loaf for an hour or two with old cronies after
he had locked up for the night. Blackwell pretended to be out of chewing
tobacco and asked the guard to buy him some. About ten o'clock Scanlan
returned and brought the tobacco to his prisoner. The moon was shining
brightly, and he did not bring a lantern with him. As he passed the plug
through the grating Blackwell's fingers closed around his wrist and drew
the man close to the iron lattice work. Simultaneously a cold rim was
pressed against the temple of the guard.

"Don't move, or I'll fill you full of holes," the convict warned.

Scanlan did not move, not until the man in the cell gave the word. Then he
obeyed orders to the letter. His right hand found the bunch of keys,
fitted the correct one to the door, and unlocked it according to
instructions. Not until he was relieved of his weapon did Blackwell
release him. The jailer was backed into the cell, gagged with a piece of
torn bedding, and left locked up as securely as the other had been a few
minutes earlier.

The convict made his way downstairs, opened the outer door with the bunch
of keys he had taken from Scanlan, locked it behind him, and slipped into
the first alley that offered refuge. By way of the Mexican quarters he
reached the suburbs and open country. Two hours later he stole a horse
from an irrigated ranch near town. Within twenty-four hours he had reached
the Soapy Stone horse ranch and safety.

After this the plans for the raid on the Texas, Arizona & Pacific Flyer
moved swiftly to a head. Soapy Stone and Sam dropped into Saguache
inconspicuously one evening. Next day Stone rode down to Tin Cup to look
over the ground. Maloney telephoned their movements to the Circle C and to
the Hashknife. This brought to Saguache Luck Cullison, Curly Flandrau, and
Slats Davis. Bucky O'Connor had been called to Douglas on important
business and could not lend his help.

Curly met Sam in front of Chalkeye's Place. They did the town together in
a mild fashion and Flandrau proposed that they save money by taking a
common room. To this young Cullison agreed.

Luck, Curly and Dick Maloney had already ridden over the country
surrounding the scene of the projected hold-up. They had decided that the
robbery would probably take place at the depot, so that the outlaws could
get the agent to stop the Flyer without arousing suspicion. In a pocket of
the hills back of the station a camp had been selected, its site well back
from any trail and so situated that from it one could command a view of
Tin Cup.

The owner of the Circle C selected three of his closemouthed
riders--Sweeney, Jake and Buck were the ones he chose--to hold the camp
with him until after the robbery. The only signal they needed was the
stopping of the Flyer at Tin Cup. Then they would come pounding down from
the hills in time to catch the robbers before they had got through with
their work. Maloney or Curly would be on the train to take a hand in the
battle. Caught by surprise, Soapy's gang would surely be trapped.

So they planned it, but it happened that Soapy Stone had made his
arrangements differently.

Luck and his riders took their blankets and their traps down to Tin Cup
according to agreement, while Davis, Maloney and Flandrau looked after the
Saguache end of the business. All of them were very friendly with Sam. The
boy, younger than any of them, was flattered that three of the best known
riders in the territory should make so much of him. Moreover, Stone had
given him instructions to mix with Curly's crowd as much as he could. He
had given as a reason that it would divert suspicion, but what he really
wanted was to throw the blame of the hold-up on these friends after Sam
was found dead on the scene.

Young Cullison had stopped drinking, but he could not keep his nerves from
jumping. His companions pretended not to notice how worried he was, but
they watched him so closely that he was never out of the sight of at least
one of them. Soapy had decreed the boy's death by treachery, but his
friends were determined to save him and to end forever the reign of Stone
as a bad man.

It was one day when the four young cowpunchers were sitting together in
Curly's room playing poker that a special delivery letter came to Sam. The
others, to cover their excitement, started an argument as to whether five
aces (they were playing with the joker) beat a straight flush. Presently
Sam spoke, as indifferently as he could.

"Got the offer of a job down the line. Think I'll run down to-night far as
Casa Grande and see what's doing."

"If they need any extra riders here's some more out of a job," Dick told
him.

"Heard to-day of a freighter that wants a mule-skinner. I'm going to see
him to-morrow," Slats chipped in.

"Darn this looking for a job anyhow. It's tur'ble slow work," Curly
followed up, yawning. "Well, here's hoping you land yours, Sam."

This was about two o'clock in the afternoon. The game dragged on for a
while, but nobody took any interest in it. Sam had to get ready for the
work of the night, and the rest were anxious to get out and give him a
chance. So presently Dick threw down his cards.

"I've had enough poker for one session. Me, I'm going to drift out and see
what's moving in town."

"Think I'll snooze for a while," Sam said, stretching sleepily.

The others trooped out and left him alone. From the room rented by Davis
the three watched to see that Sam did not leave without being observed. He
did not appear, and about six o'clock Curly went back to his room.

"Time to grub," he sang out.

"That's right," Sam agreed.

They went to the New Orleans Hash House, and presently Davis and Maloney
also arrived. The party ordered a good dinner and took plenty of time to
eat it. Sam was obviously nervous, but eager to cover his uneasiness under
a show of good spirits.

Curly finished eating just as Sam's second cup of coffee came. Flandrau,
who had purposely chosen a seat in the corner where he was hemmed in by
the chairs of the others, began to feel in his vest pockets.

"Darned if I've got a cigar. Sam, you're young and nimble. Go buy me one
at the counter."

"Sure." Cullison was away on the instant.

Curly's hand came out of his pocket. In it was a paper. Quickly he shook
the contents of the paper into the steaming cup of coffee and stirred the
liquid with a spoon.

Sam brought back the cigar and drank his coffee. Without any unnecessary
delay they returned to his room. Before the party had climbed the stairs
the boy was getting drowsy.

"Dunno what's the matter with me. I'm feeling awful sleepy," he said,
sitting on the bed.

"Why don't you take a snooze? You've got lots of time before the train
goes."

"No, I don't reckon I better."

He rubbed his eyes, yawned, and slumped down. His lids wavered, shut,
jerked open again, and closed slowly.

"Wake me, Curly--time for train." And with that he was sound asleep.

They took off his boots and settled him comfortably. In his pocket they
found a black mask big enough to cover his whole face. The registered
letter could not be found and they decided he must have destroyed it.

The sight of the mask had given Curly an idea. He was of about the same
build as Sam. Why not go in his place? It would be worth doing just to
catch sight of Soapy's face when he took the mask off after the robbers
had been captured.

"What's the use?" Davis protested. "It's an unnecessary risk. They might
shoot you in place of Sam."

"I'll look out for myself. Don't worry about that. Before the time for
getting rid of Sam comes Mr. Soapy and his bunch will be prisoners."

They argued it out, but Curly was set and could not be moved. He dressed
in young Cullison's clothes and with Maloney took the express at 9:57.
Davis remained to guard Sam.

Curly's watch showed 10:17 when the wheels began to grind from the setting
of the air brakes. He was in the last sleeper, Dick in the day coach near
the front. They had agreed that Dick was to drop off as soon as the train
slowed down enough to make it safe, whereas Curly would go on and play
Sam's part until the proper time.

The train almost slid to a halt from the pressure of the hard-jammed
brakes. A volley of shots rang out. Curly slipped the mask over his face
and rose with a revolver in each hand. He had been sitting at the end of
the car, so that nobody noticed him until his voice rang out with a crisp
order.

"Hands up! Don't anybody move!"

An earthquake shock could not have alarmed the passengers more. The color
was washed completely from the faces of most of them.

"Reach for the roof. Come, punch a hole in the sky!" To do it thoroughly,
Curly flung a couple of shots through the ceiling. That was enough. Hands
went up without any argument, most of them quivering as from an Arkansas
chill.

Presently Cranston herded the passengers in from the forward coaches. With
them were most of the train crew. The front door of the car was locked so
that they could not easily get out.

"We're cutting off the express car and going forward to 'Dobe Wells with
it. There we can blow open the safe uninterrupted," Bad Bill explained.
"You ride herd on the passengers here from the outside till you hear two
shots, then hump yourself forward and hop on the express car."

Fine! Curly was to stand out there in the moonlight and let anybody in the
car that had the nerve pepper away at him. If they did not attend to the
job of riddling him, his false friends would do it while he was running
forward to get aboard. Nothing could have been simpler--if he had not
happened to have had inside information of their intent.

He had to think quickly, for the plans of him and his friends had been
deranged. They had reckoned on the express car being rifled on the spot.
This would have given Cullison time to reach the scene of action. Mow they
would be too late. Maloney, lying snugly in the bear grass beside the
track, would not be informed as to the arrangement. Unless Curly could
stop it, the hold-up would go through according to the program of Soapy
and not of his enemies.

The decision of Flamdrau was instantaneous. He slid down beside the track
into the long grass. Whipping up one of his guns, he fired. As if in
answer to the first shot his revolver cracked twice. Simultaneously, he
let out a cry of pain, wriggled back for a dozen yards through the grass,
and crossed the track in the darkness. As he crouched down close to the
wheels of the sleeper someone came running back on the other side.

"What's up, Sam? You hit?" he could hear Blackwell whisper.

No answer came. The paroled convict was standing close to the car for fear
of being hit himself and he dared not move forward into the grass to
investigate.

"Sam," he called again; then, "He's sure got his."

That was all Curly wanted to know. Softly he padded forward, keeping as
low as he could till he reached the empty sleepers. A brakeman was just
uncoupling the express car when Curly dived underneath and nestled close
to the trucks.

From where he lay he could almost have reached out and touched Soapy
standing by the car.

"What about the kid?" Stone asked Blackwell as the latter came up.

"They got him. Didn't you hear him yelp?"

"Yes, but did they put him out of business? See his body?"

Blackwell had no intention of going back into the fire zone and making
sure. For his part he was satisfied. So he lied.

"Yep. Blew the top of his head off."

"Good," Soapy nodded. "That's a receipt in full for Mr. Luck Cullison."

The wheels began to move. Soon they were hitting only the high spots.
Curly guessed they must be doing close to sixty miles an hour. Down where
he was the dust was flying so thickly he could scarce breathe, as it
usually does on an Arizona track in the middle of summer.

Before many minutes the engine began to slow down. The wheels had hardly
stopped moving when Curly crept out, plowed through the sand, up the
rubble of a little hill, and into a draw where a bunch of scrub oaks
offered cover.

A voice from in front called to him. Just then the moon appeared from
behind drifting clouds.


"Oh, it's you, Sam. Everything all right?"

"Right as the wheat. We're blowing open the safe now," Flandrau answered.

Moving closer, he saw that his questioner was the man in charge of the
horses. Though he knew the voice, he could not put a name to its owner.
But this was not the point that first occupied his mind. There were only
four horses for five riders. Curly knew now that he had not been
mistaken. Soapy had expected one of his allies to stay on the field of
battle, had prepared for it from the beginning. The knowledge of this
froze any remorse the young vaquero might have felt.

He pushed his revolver against the teeth of the horse wrangler.

"Don't move, you bandy-legged maverick, or I'll fill your hide full of
holes. And if you want to keep on living padlock that mouth of yours."

In spite of his surprise the man caught the point at once. He turned over
his weapons without a word.

Curly unwound a rope from one of the saddles and dropped a loop round the
neck of his prisoner. The two men mounted and rode out of the draw, the
outlaw leading the other two horses. As soon as they reached the bluff
above Flandrau outlined the next step in the program.

"We'll stay here in the tornilla and see what happens, my friend. Unless
you've a fancy to get lead poisoning keep still."

"Who in Mexico are you?" the captured man asked.

"It's your showdown. Skin off that mask."

The man hesitated. His own revolver moved a few inches toward his head.
Hastily he took off the mask. The moon shone on the face of the man called
Dutch. Flandrau laughed. Last time they had met Curly had a rope around
his neck. Now the situation was reversed.

An explosion below told them that the robbers had blown open the safe.
Presently Soapy's voice came faintly to them.

"Bring up the horses."

He called again, and a third time. The dwarfed figures of the outlaws
stood out clear in the moonlight. One of them ran up the track toward the
draw. He disappeared into the scrub oaks, from whence his alarmed voice
came in a minute.

"Dutch! Oh, Dutch!"

The revolver rim pressed a little harder against the bridge of the horse
wrangler's nose.

"He ain't here," Blackwell called back to his accomplices.

That brought Stone on the run. "You condemned idiot, he must be there.
Ain't he had two hours to get here since he left Tin Cup?"

They shouted themselves hoarse. They wandered up and down in a vain
search. All the time Curly and his prisoner sat in the brush and scarcely
batted an eye.

At last Soapy gave up the hunt. The engine and the express car were sent
back to join the rest of the train and as soon as they were out of sight
the robbers set out across country toward the Flatiron ranch.

Curly guessed their intentions. They would rustle horses there and head
for the border. It was the only chance still left them.

After they had gone Curly and his prisoner returned to the road and set
out toward Tin Cup. About a mile and a half up the line they met Cullison
and his riders on the way down. Maloney was with them. He had been picked
up at the station.

Dick gave a shout of joy when he heard Flandrau's voice.

"Oh, you Curly! I've been scared stiff for fear they'd got you."

Luck caught the boy's hand and wrung it hard. "You plucky young idiot,
you've got sand in your craw. What the deuce did you do it for?"

They held a conference while the Circle C riders handcuffed Dutch and tied
him to a horse. Soon the posse was off again, having left the prisoner in
charge of one of the men. They swung round in a wide half circle, not
wishing to startle their game until the proper time. The horses pounded up
hills, slid into washes, and plowed through sand on a Spanish trot,
sometimes in the moonlight, more often in darkness. The going was rough,
but they could not afford to slacken speed.

When they reached the edge of the mesa that looked down on the Flatiron
the moon was out and the valley was swimming in light. They followed the
dip of a road that led down to the corral. Passing the fenced lane leading
to the stable, they tied their ponies inside and took the places assigned
to them by Cullison.

They had not long to wait. In less than half an hour three shadowy figures
slipped round the edge of the corral and up the lane. Each of them carried
a rifle in addition to his hip guns.

They slid into the open end of the stable. Cullison's voice rang out
coldly.

"Drop your guns!"

A startled oath, a shot, and before one could have lifted a hand that
silent moonlit valley of peace had become a battlefield.

The outlaws fell back from the stable, weapons smoking furiously.
Blackwell broke into a run, never looking behind him, but Soapy and Bad
Bill gave back foot by foot fighting every step of the way.

Dick and Curly rose from behind the rocks where they had been placed and
closed the trap on Blackwell. The paroled convict let out one yell.

"I give up. Goddlemighty, don't shoot!"

His rifle he had already thrown away. With his arms reaching above him,
his terror-stricken eyes popping from his head, he was a picture of the
most frightened "bad man" who had ever done business in Arizona.

Half way down the lane Cranston was hit. He sank to his knees, and from
there lopped over sideways to his left elbow. In the darkness his voice
could be heard, for the firing had momentarily ceased.

"They've got me, Soapy. Run for it. I'll hold 'em back."

"Hit bad, Bill?"

"I'm all in. Vamos!"

Stone turned to run, and for the first time saw that his retreat was cut
off. As fast as he could pump the lever his rifle began working again.

The firing this time did not last more than five seconds. When the smoke
cleared it was all over. Soapy lay on his back, shot through and through.
Blackwell had taken advantage of the diversion to crawl through the
strands of barbed wire and to disappear in the chaparral. Bill had rolled
over on his face.

Curly crept through the fence after the escaping man, but in that heavy
undergrowth he knew it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. After
a time he gave it up and returned to the field of battle.

Dick was bending over Stone. He looked up at the approach of his friend
and said just one word.

"Dead."

Cullison had torn open Cranston's shirt and was examining his wounds.

"No use, Luck. I've got a-plenty. You sure fooled us thorough. Was it Sam
gave us away?"

"No, Bill. Curly overheard Soapy and Blackwell at Chalkeye's Place. Sam
stood pat, though you were planning to murder him."

"I wasn't in on that, Luck--didn't know a thing about it till after the
boy was shot. I wouldn't a-stood for it."

"He wasn't shot. Curly saved him. He had to give you away to do it."

"Good enough. Serves Soapy right for double crossing Sam. Take care of
that kid, Luck. He's all right yet." His eye fell on Flandrau. "You're a
game sport, son. You beat us all. No hard feelings."

"Sorry it had to be this way, Bill."

The dying man was already gray to the lips, but his nerve did not falter.
"It had to come some time. And it was Luck ought to have done it too." He
waved aside Sweeney, who was holding a flask to his lips. "What's the use?
I've got mine."

"Shall we take him to the house?" Maloney asked.

"No. I'll die in the open. Say, there's something else, boys. Curly has
been accused of that Bar Double M horse rustling back in the early summer.
I did that job. He was not one of us. You hear, boys. Curly was not in
it."

A quarter of an hour later he died. He had lied to save from the
penitentiary the lad who had brought about his death. Curly knew why he
had done it--because he felt himself to blame for the affair. Maybe Bad
Bill had been a desperado, a miscreant according to the usual standard,
but when it came to dying he knew how to go better than many a respectable
citizen. Curly stole off into the darkness so that the boys would not see
him play the baby.

By this time the men from the Flatiron were appearing, armed with such
weapons as they could hastily gather. The situation was explained to them.
Neighboring ranches were called up by telephone and a systematic hunt
started to capture Blackwell.

Luck left his three riders to help in the man hunt, but he returned with
Curly and Maloney to Saguache. On the pommel of his saddle was a sack. It
contained the loot from the express car of the Flyer. Two lives already
had been sacrificed to get it, and the sum total taken amounted only to
one hundred ninety-four dollars and sixteen cents.





Next: The Prodigal Son

Previous: Bob Takes A Hand



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