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An Initialed Hat







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Mackenzie was reading the Sentinel while he ate a late breakfast. He had
it propped against the water bottle, so that it need not interfere with
the transportation of sausages, fried potatoes, hot cakes, and coffee to
their common destination.

Trying to do two things at once has its disadvantages. A startling
headline caught his eyes just as the cup was at his lips. Hot coffee,
precipitately swallowed, scalded his tongue and throat. He set down the
cup, swore mildly, and gave his attention to the news that had excited
him. The reporter had run the story to a column, but the leading paragraph
gave the gist of it:

While the citizens of Saguache were peacefully sleeping last night, a
lone bandit held up the messengers of the Western and Southern
Express Company, and relieved them of $20,000 just received from El
Paso on the Flyer.

Perry Hawley, the local manager of the company, together with Len
Rogers, the armed guard, had just returned from the depot, where the
money had been turned over to them and receipted for. Hawley had
unlocked the door of the office and had stepped in, followed by
Rogers, when a masked desperado appeared suddenly out of the
darkness, disarmed the guard and manager, took the money, passed
through the door and locked it after him, and vanished as silently as
he had come. Before leaving, he warned his victims that the place
would be covered for ten minutes and at any attempt to call for help
they would be shot. Notwithstanding this, the imprisoned men risked
their lives by raising the alarm.

Further down the page Mackenzie discovered that the desperado was still at
large, but that Sheriff Bolt expected shortly to lay hands on him.

"I'll bet a dollar Nick Bolt didn't make any such claim to the reporter.
He ain't the kind that brags," Mackenzie told himself.

He folded the paper and returned to his room to make preparation to return
to his ranch. The buzz of the telephone called him to the receiver. The
voice of Cullison reached him.

"That you, Mac. I'll be right up. No, don't come down. I'd rather see you
alone."

The owner of the Circle C came right to business. "I've made a raise, Mac,
and while I've got it I'm going to skin off what's coming to you."

He had taken a big roll of bills from his pocket, and was counting off
what he had lost to his friend. The latter noticed that it all seemed to
be in twenties.

"Twelve hundred. That squares us, Mac."

The Scotchman was vaguely uneasy without a definite reason for his
anxiety. Only last night Cullison had told him not a single bank in town
would advance him a dollar. Now he had money in plenty. Where had he got
it?

"No hurry at all, Luck. Pay when you're good and ready."

"That's now."

"Because I'll only put it in the Cattlemen's National. It's yours if you
need it."

"I'll let you know if I do," his friend nodded.

Mackenzie's eye fell on a copy of the Sentinel protruding from the
other's pocket. "Read about the hold-up of the W. & S. Express? That
fellow had his nerve with him."

"Sho! This hold-up game's the easiest yet. He got the drop on them, and
there was nothing to it. The key was still in the lock of the door. Well,
when he gets through he steps out, turns the key, and rides away."

"How did he know there was money coming in last night?"

"There's always a leak about things of that sort. Somebody talks. I knew
it myself for that matter."

"You knew! Who told you?"

"That's a secret, Mac. Come to think of it, I wish you wouldn't tell
anybody that I knew. I don't want to get the man who told me in trouble."

"Sure I won't." He passed to another phase of the subject. "The Sentinel
says Bolt expects to catch the robber. Think he will?"

"Not if the fellow knows his business. Bolt has nothing to go on. He has
the whole Southwest to pick from. For all he knows, it was you."

"Yes, but----"

"Or more likely me." The gray eyes of the former sheriff held a frosty
smile.

In spite of that smile, or perhaps because of it, Mackenzie felt again
that flash of doubt. "What's the use of talking foolishness, Luck? Course
you didn't do it. Anybody would know that. Man, I whiles wonder at you,"
he protested, relapsing into his native tongue as he sometimes did when
excited.

"I didn't say I did it. I said I might have done it"

"Oh, well! You didn't. I know you too well."

But the trouble was Mackenzie did not know him well enough. Cullison was
hard up, close to the wall. How far would he go to save himself? Thirty
years before when they had been wild young lads these two had hunted their
fun together. Luck had always been the leader, had always been ready for
any daredeviltry that came to his mind. He had been the kind to go the
limit in whatever he undertook, to play it to a finish in spite of
opposition. And what a man is he must be to the end. In his slow, troubled
fashion, Mac wondered if his old side partner's streak of lawlessness
would take him as far as a hold-up. Of course it would not, he assured
himself; but he could not get the ridiculous notion out of his head. It
drew his thoughts, and at last his steps toward the express office where
the hold-up had taken place.

He opened a futile conversation with Hawley, while Len Rogers, the guard
who had not made good, looked at him with a persistent, hostile eye.

"Hard luck," the cattleman condoled.

"That's what you think, is it? You and your friends, too, I reckon."

Mackenzie looked at the guard, who was plainly sore in every humiliated
crevice of his brain. "I ain't speaking for my friends, Len, but for
myself," he said amiably.

Rogers laughed harshly. "Didn't know but what you might be speaking for
one of your friends."

"They can all speak for themselves when they have got anything to say."

Hawley sent a swift, warning look toward his subordinate. The latter came
to time sulkily. "I didn't say they couldn't."

Mackenzie drifted from this unfriendly atmosphere to the courthouse. He
found Sheriff Bolt in his office. It was that official's busy day, but he
found time not only to see the owner of the Fiddleback, but to press upon
him cordially an invitation to sit down and smoke. The Scotchman wanted to
discuss the robbery, but was shy about attacking the subject. While he
boggled at it, Bolt was off on another tack.

Inside of a quarter of an hour the sheriff had found out all he wanted to
know about the poker game, Cullison's financial difficulties, and the news
that Luck had liquidated his poker debt since breakfast time. He had
turned the simple cattleman's thoughts inside out, was aware of the doubt
Billie had scarcely admitted to himself, and knew all he did except the
one point Luck had asked him not to mention. Moreover, he had talked so
casually that his visitor had no suspicion of what he was driving at.

Mackenzie attempted a little sleuthing of his own. "This hold-up fellow
kind of slipped one over on you last night, Bolt."

"Maybe so, and maybe not."

"Got a clew, have you?"

"Oh, yes--yes." The sheriff looked straight at him. "I've a notion his
initials are L. C."

Billie felt himself flushing. "What makes you think that, Nick?"

Bolt walked to a cupboard and unlocked it. His back was toward the
cattleman, but the latter could see him take something from a shelf.
Turning quickly, the sheriff tossed a hat upon the table.

"Ever see this before?"

Mac picked it up. His fingers were not quite steady, for a great dread
drenched his heart like a rush of icy water. Upon that gray felt hat with
the pinched crown was stamped the individuality--and the initials--of Luck
Cullison.

"Don't know as I recognize it," he lied, not very readily. "Not to know
it. Why?"

"Thought perhaps you might know it. The hold-up dropped it while getting
away."

Mackenzie's eyes flinched. "Dropped it. How was that?"

"A man happened to come along San Miguel street just as the robber swung
to his horse. He heard the cries of the men inside, guessed what was
doing, and exchanged shots with the miscreant. He shot this hat off the
fellow's head."

"The Sentinel didn't tell any such a story."

"I didn't give that detail to the editor."

"Who was the man that shot the robber?"

"Cass Fendrick."

"But he didn't claim to recognize the hold-up?" Mackenzie forced himself
to ask this in spite of his fears.

"Not for certain."

"Then he--he had a guess."

"Yes, Mac. He guessed a man whose initials are the same as those in that
hat."

"Who do you mean, Nick?"

"I don't need to tell you that. You know who."

"If you mean Luck Cullison, it's a damned lie," exploded the cattleman. He
was furious with himself, for he felt now that he had been unsuspectingly
helping to certify the suspicions of the sheriff. Like an idiot, he had
let out much that told heavily against his friend.

"I hope so."

"Cass Fendrick is not on good terms with him. We all know that. Luck has
got him in a hole. I wouldn't put it a bit above Cass to lie if he thought
it would hurt Luck. Tell you it's a damned conspiracy. Man, can't you see
that?"

"What about this hat, with the two holes shot through the rim?"

"Sho! We all wear hats just like that. Look at mine." Billie held it out
eagerly.

"Has yours an L. C. stamped in the sweat band?" Bolt asked with a smile.

"I know you ain't his friend, Nick. But you want to be fair to him even if
he did oppose your election." Mackenzie laid an appealing hand on the knee
of the man seated opposite him.

"I'm sheriff of Papago County. It doesn't make any difference who worked
for or against me, Billie. I was elected, and I'm going to enforce the
law."

"And you think Luck would do a fool thing like this?"

"I didn't say I thought so, but it's my business not to overlook any
bets."

"But you do believe it. Now, don't you?"

"Since you've got to have an answer--yes, I do."

"By heaven, I'd as lief think I did it myself."

"You're a good friend," Bolt conceded. "By the way, I've got to pay for
some supplies this morning. Can you cash a check for a hundred?"

"I reckon so." Mackenzie drew from his pocket the roll Cullison had given
him two hours before. He peeled five twenties from it. The sheriff
observed that the prevailing denomination was the same.

"Get these from Luck?" he asked carelessly.

The cattleman stared at him, and the suspicion grew on him that he had
been trapped again.

"Why do you ask?"

"Because it happens the bills stolen from the W. & S. were all twenties."

"No, I didn't get them from Cullison. This is money I had," he answered
sullenly.

"Then I dare say you can let me see the money you got from him."

"He paid me by check."

"Banked it yet?"

"That's my business, Nick."

"And mine, Billie. I can find out from the bank if you have. Besides, I
happen to know that Luck's bank account is overdrawn."

"Some one has been at you to prejudice you, Bolt."

"Nobody but Luck Cullison himself--and his actions."

From the office of the sheriff, Mackenzie wandered to the club in search
of Luck. He was thoroughly dispirited, both dreaded to meet Luck, and yet
was anxious to do so. For he wanted to warn him, wanted to see him fall
into one of his chill rages when he told him there were suspicions against
him.

Cullison had left the club, but Alec Flandrau was still there. Billie drew
him into a corner, and learned that Luck had just settled with him.

"Anyone see him give it to you, Alec?"

"No. He took me upstairs to the library and paid me."

"In bills?"

"Yes--in twenties."

"For God's sake, don't tell anybody that." In a dozen jerky sentences the
owner of the Fiddleback told Flandrau of the suspicions of the sheriff.

Together they went in search of Luck. But though they looked for him all
day, he was not to be found. They might have concluded he had ridden out
to the ranch, but his horse was still at the stable where he had left it.

The last that had been seen of him Luck was walking along the plaza toward
the hotel, not a hundred and fifty yards from the latter. A dozen men had
spoken to him in the distance of a block. But he had not been seen to
reach his hotel. He had not called for his room key. Somehow he had
vanished, and none could tell how or where.

To Bolt his disappearance was as good as a confession of guilt. He
searched Luck's room at the hotel. Among other things, he found an old
envelope with interesting data penciled on it.

Before nightfall the word was whispered all over Saguache that Luck
Cullison, pioneer cattleman and former sheriff, was suspected of the
W. & S. Express robbery and had fled to save himself from arrest. At first
men marveled that one so well known and so popular, one who had been so
prominent in affairs, could be suspected of such a crime, but as they
listened to the evidence and saw it fall like blocks of a building into
place, the conviction grew that he was the masked bandit wanted by the
sheriff.





Next: Kate Uses Her Quirt

Previous: Luck Meets An Old Acquaintance



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