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A Walk In The Park








From: The Fighting Edge

June was the first to speak. "So you're here. You didn't get away."

"I'm here," Houck growled. "No chance for a getaway. I ran out the back
door of the bank an' ducked into the hotel. This was the first door I
come to, an' I headed in."

She was not afraid of him. The power he had once held over her was gone
forever. The girl had found resources within herself that refused him
dominance. He was what he always had been, but she had changed. Her
vision was clearer. A game and resourceful bully he might be, but she
knew one quiet youth of a far finer courage.

"They're lookin' for you along the river," she said.

The muscles of his jaw hardened. "They'd better hope they don't find me,
some of 'em," he bragged.

"So had you," she said significantly.

He took her meaning instantly. The temper of Bear Cat was on edge for a
lynching. "Did they die, either o' those fellows I shot?" the bandit
demanded.

"Not yet."

"Fools, the pair of 'em. If that bank teller hadn't grabbed for his gun
we'd 'a' got away with it fine."

She looked at him with disgust, not untouched with self-scorn because she
had ever let him become an overpowering influence in her life. He could
no more help boasting than he could breathing.

"As it is, you've reached the end of your rope," the girl said steadily.

"Don't you think I'm at the end of a rope. I'm a long ways from there."

"And the men with you are gone."

"How gone? Did they get 'em?"

"Neither of them ever moved out of his tracks."

"When I heard the shootin' I figured it would be thataway," Houck said
callously.

She could see in him no evidence whatever of regret or remorse for what
he had done. This raid, she guessed, was of his planning. He had brought
the others into it, and they had paid the penalty of their folly. The
responsibility for their deaths lay at his door. He was not apparently
giving a thought to that.

"You can't stay here," she told him coldly. "You'll have to go."

"Go where? Can you get me a horse?"

"I won't," June answered.

"I got to have a horse, girl," he wheedled. "Can't travel without one."

"I don't care how far you travel or what becomes of you. I want you out
of here. That's all."

"You wouldn't want me shootin' up some o' yore friends, would you? Well,
then. If they find me here there'll be some funerals in Bear Cat. You can
bet heavy on that."

She spoke more confidently than she felt. "They can take care of
themselves. I won't have you here. I'll not protect you."

The outlaw's eyes narrowed to slits. "Throw me down, would you? Tell 'em
I'm here, mebbe?" His face was a menace, his voice a snarl.

June looked at him steadily, unafraid. "You needn't try to bully me. It's
not worth wasting your time."

To look at her was to know the truth of what she said, but he could not
help trying to dominate the girl, both because it was his nature and
because he needed so badly her help.

"Sho! You're not so goshalmighty. You're jes' June Tolliver. I'm the same
Jake Houck you once promised to marry. Don't forget that, girl. I took
you from that white-livered fellow you married--"

"Who saved you from the Utes when nobody else would lift a finger for
you. That comes well from you of all men," she flung out.

"That ain't the point. What I'm sayin' is that I'll not stand for you
throwin' me down."

"What can you do?" She stood before him in her stockings, the heavy black
hair waving down to her hips, a slim girl whose wiry strength he could
crush with one hand.

Her question stopped him. What could he do if she wanted to give him up?
If he made a move toward her she would scream, and that would bring his
enemies upon him. He could shoot her afterward, but that would do no
good. His account was heavy enough as it stood without piling up
surplusage.

"You aimin' for to sell me out?" he asked hoarsely.

"No. I won't be responsible for your death." June might have added
another reason, a more potent one. She knew Jake Houck, what a game and
desperate villain he was. They could not capture him alive. It was not
likely he could be killed without one or two men at least being shot by
him. Driven into a corner, he would fight like a wild wolf.

"Tha's the way to talk, June. Help me outa this hole. You can if you're a
mind to. Have they got patrols out everywhere?"

"Only on the river side of the town. They think you escaped that way."

"Well, if you'll get me a horse--"

"I'll not do it." She reflected a moment, thinking out the situation. "If
you can reach the foothills you'll have a chance."

He grinned, wolfishly. "I'll reach 'em. You can gamble on that, if I have
to drop a coupla guys like I did this mornin'."

That was just the trouble. If any one interfered with him, or even
recognized him, he would shoot instantly. He would be a deadly menace
until he was out of Bear Cat.

"I'll go with you," June said impulsively.

"Go with me?" he repeated.

"Across the park. If they see me with you, nobody'll pay any attention to
you. Pull your hat down over your eyes."

He did as she told him.

"Better leave your guns here. If anyone sees them--"

"Nothin' doing. My guns go right with me. What are you trying to pull
off?" He shot a lowering, suspicious look at her.

"Keep them under your coat, then. We don't want folks looking at us too
curiously. We'll stroll along as if we were interested in our talk. When
we meet any one, if we do, you can look down at me. That'll hide your
face."

"You going with me clear to the edge of town?"

"No. Just across the square, where it's light an' there are liable to be
people. You'll have to look out for yourself after that. It's not more
than two hundred yards to the sagebrush."

"I'm ready whenever you are," he said.

June put on her shoes and did up her hair.

She made him wait there while she scouted to make sure nobody was in the
corridor outside the room.

They passed out of the back door of the hotel.

Chung met them. He grunted "Glood-eveling" with a grin at June, but he
did not glance twice at her companion.

The two passed across a vacant lot and into the park. They saw one or two
people--a woman with a basket of eggs, a barefoot boy returning home from
after-supper play. June carried the burden of the talk because she was
quicker-witted than Houck. Its purpose was to deceive anybody who might
happen to be looking at them.

It chanced that some one was looking at them. He was a young man who
had been lying on the grass stargazing. They passed close to him and he
recognized June by her walk. That was not what brought him to his feet a
moment later with a gasp of amazement. He had recognized her companion,
too, or he thought he had. It was not credible, of course. He must be
mistaken. And yet--if that was not Jake Houck's straddling slouch his
eyes were playing tricks. The fellow limped, too, just a trifle, as he
had heard the Brown's Park man did from the effects of his wounds in the
Ute campaign.

But how could Houck be with June, strolling across the park in intimate
talk with her, leaning toward her in that confidential, lover-like
attitude--Jake Houck, who had robbed the bank a few hours earlier and was
being hunted up and down the river by armed posses ready to shoot him
like a wolf? June was a good hater. She had no use whatever for this
fellow. Why, then, would she be with him, laughing lightly and talking
with animation?

Bob followed them, as noiselessly as possible. And momentarily the
conviction grew in him that this was Houck. It was puzzling, but he could
not escape the conclusion. There was a trick in the fellow's stride, a
peculiarity of the swinging shoulders that made for identification of the
man.

If he could have heard the talk between them, Bob would have better
understood the situation.

Ever since that memorable evening when Bear Cat had driven him away in
disgrace, Houck had let loose the worse impulses of his nature. He had
gone bad, to use the phrase of the West. Something in him had snapped
that hitherto had made him value the opinions of men. In the old days he
had been a rustler and worse, but no crime had ever been proved against
him. He could hold his head up, and he did. But the shock to his pride
and self-esteem that night had produced in him a species of
disintegration. He had drunk heavily and almost constantly. It had been
during the sour temper following such a bout that he had quarreled with
and shot the Ute. From that hour his declension had been swift. How far
he had gone was shown by the way he had taken Dillon's great service to
him. The thing rankled in his mind, filled him with surging rage whenever
he thought of it. He hated the young fellow more than ever.

But as he walked with June, slender, light-swinging, warm with young,
sensuous life, the sultry passion of the man mounted to his brain and
overpowered caution. His vanity whispered to him. No woman saved a man
from death unless she loved him. She might give other reasons, but that
one only counted. It was easy for him to persuade himself that she always
had been fond of him at heart. There had been moments when the quality of
her opposition to him had taken on the color of adventure.

"I'll leave you at the corner," she said. "Go back of that house and
through the barbed-wire fence. You'll be in the sage then."

"Come with me to the fence," he whispered. "I got something to tell
you."

She looked at him, sharply, coldly. "You've got nothing to tell me that I
want to hear. I'm not doing this for you, but to save the lives of my
friends. Understand that."

They were for the moment in the shadow of a great cottonwood. Houck
stopped, devouring her with his hungry eyes. Bad as the man was, he had
the human craving of his sex. The slim grace of her, the fundamental
courage, the lift of the oval chin, touched a chord that went vibrating
through him. He snatched her to him, crushing his kisses upon the
disturbing mouth, upon the color spots that warmed her cheeks.

She was too smothered to cry out at first. Later, she repressed the
impulse. With all her strength she fought to push him from her.

A step sounded, a cry, the sound of a smashing blow going home. Houck
staggered back. He reached for a revolver.

June heard herself scream. A shot rang out. The man who had rescued her
crumpled up and went down. In that horrified moment she knew he was Bob
Dillon.





Next: Not Even Powder-burnt

Previous: In A Lady's Chamber



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