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Bear Cat Awake








From: The Fighting Edge

At exactly eleven o'clock Houck, Bandy Walker, and the big young
cowpuncher who had ridden into town with them met at the corner of one of
the freight wagons. Houck talked, the others listened, except for a
comment or two. A cattleman passing them on his way to the bank recalled
afterward that the low voice of the Brown's Park man was deadly serious.

The two big men walked into the bank. Bandy stayed with the horses. In
the building, not counting the cashier and his assistant, were two or
three patrons of the institution. One was Sturgis, a round little man who
had recently started a drug-store in Bear Cat. He was talking to the
assistant cashier. The cattleman was arranging with Ferril for a loan.

The attention of the cattleman drifted from the business in hand.
"Carryin' a good deal of hardware, ain't they, Gus?"

Ferril smiled. "Most of the boys are quittin' that foolishness, but some
of 'em can't get it out of their heads that they look big when they're
gun-toters. Kind of a kid business, looks to me."

The eyes of the cattleman rested on Houck. "I wouldn't call that big
black fellow a kid. Who is he?"

"Don't know. Reckon we're due to find out. He's breakin' away from the
other fellow and movin' this way."

Houck observed that the big cowpuncher was nervous. The hand hitched in
the sagging belt was trembling.

"Don't weaken, Dave," he said in a whisper out of the corner of his
mouth. "We'll be outa town in ten minutes."

"Sure," agreed the other in a hoarse murmur.

Houck sauntered to the cage. This was a recent importation from Denver.
Bear Cat was proud of it as an evidence of progress. It gave the bank
quite a metropolitan air.

He stood behind the cattleman, the wall at his back so that his broad
shoulders brushed it. Jake had no intention of letting any one get in his
rear.

"Stick yore hands up!" he ordered roughly.

The cattleman did not turn. His hands went up instantly. A half a second
later those of the startled cashier lifted toward the ceiling.

The assistant made a bad mistake. He dived for the revolver in the desk
close at hand.

Houck fired. The bank clerk dropped.

That shot sent panic through the heart of Sturgis. He bolted for the side
door. A second shot from Houck's weapon did not stop him. A moment more,
and he was on the street racing to spread the alarm.

The leader of the bank robbers swung round on Ferril. His voice was
harsh, menacing. He knew that every moment now counted. From under his
coat he had drawn a gunnysack.

"The bank money--quick. No silver--gold an' any bills you've got."

Ferril opened the safe. He stuffed into the sack both loose and packed
gold. He had a few bills, not many, for in the West paper money was then
used very little.

"No monkey business," snarled Houck after he had stood up against the
opposite wall the cattleman and the depositor who chanced to be in the
bank. "This all you got? Speak up, or I'll drill you."

The cashier hesitated, but the ominous hollow eye into which he looked
was persuasive. He opened an inner compartment lined with bags of gold.
These he thrust into the gunnysack.

The robber named Dave tied with shaking fingers the loose end of the
sack.

"Time to go," announced Houck grimly. "You're goin' with us far as our
horses--all of you. We ain't lookin' for to be bushwhacked."

He lined up the bodyguard in front and on each side of himself and his
accomplice. Against the back of the cattleman he pushed the end of the
revolver barrel.

"Lead the way," he ordered with an oath.

Houck had heard the sound of running feet along the street. He knew it
was more than likely that there would be a fight before he and his men
got out of town. This was not in his reckoning. The shots fired inside
the bank had been outside his calculations. They had been made necessary
only by the action of the teller. Jake's plan had been to do the job
swiftly and silently, to get out of town before word of what had taken
place reached the citizens. He had chosen Bear Cat as the scene of the
robbery because there was always plenty of money in the bank, because he
owed its people a grudge, and because it was so far from a railroad.

As he had outlined the hold-up to his fellows in crime, it had looked
like a moderately safe enterprise. But he realized now that he had
probably led them into a trap. Nearly every man in Bear Cat was a
big-game hunter. This meant that they were dead shots.

Houck knew that it would be a near thing if his party got away in time. A
less resolute man would have dropped the whole thing after the alarm had
been given and ridden away at once. But he was no quitter. So he was
seeing it out.

The cattleman led the procession through the side door into the street.

Sunshine warm and mellow still bathed the street, just as it had done ten
minutes earlier. But there was a difference. Dave felt a shiver run down
his spine.

From the horses Bandy barked a warning. "Hurry, Jake, for God's sake.
They're all round us."





Next: Big-game Hunters At Work

Previous: Bear Cat Asleep



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