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Luck Meets An Old Acquaintance

Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Cullison and his friends proceeded down Papago street to the old plaza
where their hotel was located. Their transit was an interrupted one, for
these four cattlemen were among the best known in the Southwest. All along
the route they scattered nods of recognition, friendly greetings, and
genial banter. One of them--the man who had formerly been the hard-riding,
quick-shooting sheriff of the county--met also scowls once or twice, to
which he was entirely indifferent. Luck had no slavish respect for law,
had indeed, if rumor were true, run a wild and stormy course in his youth.
But his reign as sheriff had been a terror to lawbreakers. He had made
enemies, desperate and unscrupulous ones, who had sworn to wipe him from
among the living, and one of these he was now to meet for the first time
since the man had stood handcuffed before him, livid with fury, and had
sworn to cut his heart out at the earliest chance.

It was in the lobby of the hotel that Cullison came plump against Lute
Blackwell. For just a moment they stared at each other before the former
sheriff spoke.

"Out again, eh, Blackwell?" he said easily.

From the bloodshot eyes one could have told at a glance the man had been
drinking heavily. From whiskey he had imbibed a Dutch courage just bold
enough to be dangerous.

"Yes, I'm out--and back again, just as I promised, Mr. Sheriff," he

The cattleman ignored his manner. "Then I'll give you a piece of advice
gratis. Papago County has grown away from the old days. It has got past
the two-gun man. He's gone to join the antelope and the painted Indian.
You'll do well to remember that."

The fellow leaned forward, sneering so that his ugly mouth looked like a
crooked gash. "How about the one-gun man, Mr. Sheriff?"

"He doesn't last long now."

"Doesn't he?"

The man's rage boiled over. But Luck was far and away the quicker of the
two. His left hand shot forward and gripped the rising wrist, his right
caught the hairy throat and tightened on it. He shook the convict as if he
had been a child, and flung him, black in the face, against the wall,
where he hung, strangling and sputtering.

"I--I'll get you yet," the ruffian panted. But he did not again attempt to
reach for the weapon in his hip pocket.

"You talk too much with your mouth."

With superb contempt, Luck slapped him, turned on his heel, and moved
away, regardless of the raw, stark lust to kill that was searing this
man's elemental brain.

Across the convict's rage came a vision. He saw a camp far up in the
Rincons, and seated around a fire five men at breakfast, all of them
armed. Upon them had come one man suddenly. He had dominated the situation
quietly, had made one disarm the others, had handcuffed the one he wanted
and taken him from his friends through a hostile country where any hour he
might be shot from ambush. Moreover, he had traveled with his prisoner two
days, always cheerful and matter of fact, not at all uneasy as to what
might lie behind the washes or the rocks they passed. Finally he had
brought his man safely to Casa Grande, from whence he had gone over the
road to the penitentiary. Blackwell had been the captured man, and he held
a deep respect for the prowess of the officer who had taken him. The sheer
pluck of the adventure had alone made it possible. For such an unflawed
nerve Blackwell knew his jerky rage was no match.

The paroled convict recovered his breath and slunk out of the hotel.

Billie Mackenzie, owner of the Fiddleback ranch, laughed even while he
disapproved. "Some day, Luck, you'll get yours when you are throwing
chances at a coyote like this. You'll guess your man wrong, or he'll be
one glass drunker than you figure on, and then he'll plug you through and

"The man that takes chances lives longest, Mac," his friend replied,
dismissing the subject carelessly. "I'm going to tuck away about three
hours of sleep. So long." And with a nod he was gone to his room.

"All the same Luck's too derned rash," Flandrau commented. "He'll run into
trouble good and hard one of these days. When I'm in Rattlesnake Gulch I
don't aim to pick posies too unobservant."

Mackenzie looked worried. No man lived whom he admired so much as Luck
Cullison. "And he hadn't ought to be sitting in these big games. He's hard
up. Owes a good bit here and there. Always was a spender. First thing
he'll have to sell the Circle C to square things. He'll pay us this week
like he said he would. That's dead sure. He'd die before he'd fall down on
it, now Fendrick has got his back up. But I swear I don't know where he'll
raise the price. Money is so tight right now."

That afternoon Luck called at every bank in Saguache. All of the bankers
knew him and were friendly to him, but in spite of their personal regard
they could do nothing for him.

"It's this stringency, Luck," Jordan of the Cattlemen's National explained
to him. "We can't let a dollar go even on the best security. You know I'd
like to let you have it, but it wouldn't be right to the bank. We've got
to keep our reserve up. Why, I'm lying awake nights trying to figure out a
way to call in more of our money."

"I'm not asking much, Jack."

"Luck, I'd let you have it if I dared. Why, we're running close to the
wind. Public confidence is a mighty ticklish thing. If I didn't have
twenty thousand coming from El Paso on the Flyer to-night I'd be uneasy
for the bank."

"Twenty thousand on the Flyer. I reckon you ship by express, don't you?"

"Yes. Don't mention it to anyone. That twenty thousand would come handy to
a good many people in this country these times."

"It would come right handy to me," Luck laughed ruefully. "I need every
cent of it. After the beef roundup, I'll be on Easy Street, but it's going
to be hard sledding to keep going till then."

"You'll make a turn somehow. It will work out. Maybe when money isn't so
tight I'll be able to do something for you."

Luck returned to the hotel morosely, and tried to figure a way out of his
difficulties. He was not going to be beaten. He never had accepted defeat,
even in the early days when he had sometimes taken a lawless short cut to
what he wanted. By God, he would not lose out after all these years of
fighting. It had been his desperate need of money that had made him sit in
last night's poker game. But he had succeeded only in making a bad
situation worse. He knew his debts by heart, but he jotted them down on
the back of an envelope and added them again.

Mortgage on ranch (due Oct. 1), $13,000
Note to First National, 3,500
Note to Reynolds, 1,750
I O U to Mackenzie, 1,200
Same to Flandrau, 400
Same to Yesler, 300
Total, $20,150

Twenty thousand was the sum he needed, and mighty badly, too.
Absentmindedly he turned the envelope over and jotted down one or two
other things. Twenty thousand dollars! Just the sum Jordan had coming to
the bank on the Flyer. Subconsciously, Luck's fingers gave expression to
his thoughts. $20,000. Half a dozen times they penciled it, and just below
the figures, "W. & S. Ex. Co." Finally they wrote automatically the one
word, "To-night."

Luck looked at what he had written, laughed grimly, and tore the envelope
in two. He threw the pieces in the waste paper basket.

Next: An Initialed Hat

Previous: At The Round Up Club

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