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Not Even Powder-burnt








From: The Fighting Edge

Houck stood over the prostrate man, the smoking revolver in his hand, on
his lips a cruel twist and in his throat a wolfish snarl.

June, watching him with eyes held in a fascination of terror, felt that
at any moment he might begin pumping shots into the supine body. She
shook off the palsy that held her and almost hurled her soft young body
at him.

"Don't!" she begged. "Don't!" Cold fingers clutched at his wrist, dragged
down the barrel of the forty-five.

"He had it comin'. He was askin' for it," the outlaw said. He spoke
huskily, still looking down at the crumpled figure.

The girl felt in him the slackness of indecision. Should he shoot again
and make sure? Or let the thing go as it was? In an instant he would have
made up his mind.

She spoke quickly, words tumbling out pell-mell. "You must hurry--hurry!
When they heard that shot--Listen! There's some one coming. Oh, run,
run!"

Her staccato warning deflected his mind from the course toward which it
might have turned. He held up his head, listening. The slap of footsteps
on a board walk could be plainly heard. A voice lifted itself in question
into the night. The door of Dolan's opened and let out a fan-shaped shaft
of light. The figures of men could be seen as they surged across the lit
space into the darkness. June had spoken the truth. He must hurry if he
was to escape. To shoot again now would be to advertise the spot where he
was.

He wrenched his arm from her fingers and ran. He moved as awkwardly as a
bear, but he covered ground swiftly. In a few seconds the night had
swallowed him.

Instantly the girl was beside Dillon, on her knees, lifting his head into
her arms. "Oh, Bob--Bob!" she wailed.

He opened his eyes.

"Where did he hit you?" she cried softly.

His face was puzzled. He did not yet realize what had taken place. "Hit
me--who?"

"That Houck. He shot you. Oh, Bob, are you much hurt?"

Dillon was recalled to a pain in his intestines. He pressed his hand
against the cartridge belt.

"It's here," he said weakly.

He could feel the wet blood soaking through the shirt. The thought of it
almost made him lose consciousness again.

"L-let's have a look," a squeaky voice said.

June looked up. Blister had arrived panting on the scene. Larson was on
his heels.

"We better carry him to the hotel," the cattleman said to the justice.
"Who did it?"

"Houck," June sobbed. She was not weeping, but her breath was catching.

Bob tried to rise, but firm hands held him down. "I can walk," he
protested. "Lemme try, anyhow."

"No," insisted June.

Blister knelt beside Dillon. "Where's the wound at?" he asked.

The young fellow showed him.

"J-June, you go get Doc T-Tuckerman," Blister ordered.

She flew to obey.

The fat man opened the shirt.

"Look out for the blood," Bob said, still faintly. "Ouch!"

Blister's hand was traveling slowly next to the flesh. "N-no blood here,"
he said.

"Why, I felt it."

"R-reckon not, son." Blister exposed his hand in the moonlight.

The evidence bore out what he said.

"Maybe it's bleeding internally," Bob said.

Larson had picked up the belt they had unstrapped from Dillon's waist. He
was examining it closely. His keen eyes found a dent in the buckle. The
buckle had been just above the spot where Bob complained of the pain.

"Maybe it ain't," Larson said. "Looks like he hit yore belt an' the
bullet went flyin' wild."

A closer examination showed that this must be what had taken place. There
was no wound on Bob's body. He had been stunned by the shock and his
active imagination had at once accepted the assumption that he had been
wounded.

Bob rose with a shamefaced laugh. The incident seemed to him very
characteristic. He was always making a fool of himself by getting
frightened when there was no need of it. One could not imagine Dud
Hollister lying down and talking faintly about an internal bleeding when
there was not a scratch on his body, nor fancying that he could feel
blood soaking through his shirt because somebody had shot at him.

As the three men walked back toward the hotel, they met June and Dud. The
girl cried out at sight of Bob.

"I'm a false alarm," he told her bitterly. "He didn't hit me a-tall."

"Hit his b-belt buckle. If this here T-Texas man lives to be a hundred
he'll never have a closer call. Think of a fellow whangin' away with a
forty-five right close to him, hitting him where he was aimin' for, and
not even scratching Bob. O' course the shock of it knocked him cold.
Naturally it would. But I'll go on record that our friend here was born
lucky. I'd ought by rights to be holdin' an inquest on the remains,"
Blister burbled cheerfully.

June said nothing. She drew a long sigh of relief and looked at Bob to
make sure that they were concealing nothing from her.

He met her look in a kind of dogged despair. On this one subject he was
so sensitive that he found criticisms where none were intended. Blister
was making excuses for him, he felt, was preparing a way of escape from
his chicken-hearted weakness. And he did not want the failure palliated.

"What's the use of all that explainin', Blister?" he said bluntly. "Fact
is, I got scared an' quit cold. Thought I was shot up when I wasn't even
powder-burnt."

He turned on his heel and walked away.

Dud's white teeth showed in his friendly, affectionate grin. "Never did
see such a fellow for backin' hisself into a corner an' allowin' that
he's a plumb quitter. I'll bet, if the facts were known, he come through
all right."

June decided to tell her story. "Yes, Dud. He must have seen Jake Houck
with me, and when Jake--annoyed me--Bob jumped at him and hit him. Then
Jake shot."

"Lucky he didn't shoot again after Bob was down," ventured Dud on a
search for information.

In the darkness none of them could see the warm glow that swept across
the cheeks of the girl. "I kinda got in his way--and told him he'd better
hurry," she explained.

"Yes, but--Where did you meet Houck? How did he happen to be with you?"
asked Larson. "To be on this side of town he must 'a' slipped through the
guards."

"He never went to the river. I found him under the bed in my room a few
minutes ago. Said he ran in there after he left the bank. He wanted me to
get him a horse. I wouldn't. But I knew if he was found cornered he would
kill somebody before he was taken. Maybe two or three. I didn't know. And
of course he wouldn't 'a' let me leave the room alone anyhow. So I said
I'd walk across the park with him and let him slip into the sage. I
thought it would be better."

Dud nodded. "We'd better get the boys on his trail immediate."

They separated, with that end in view.





Next: Bob Holds His Red Haid High

Previous: A Walk In The Park



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