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The Friends Of L C Serve Notice







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Two men sat in a log cabin on opposite sides of a cheap table. One of them
was immersed in a newspaper. His body was relaxed, his mind apparently at
ease. The other watched him malevolently. His fingers caressed the handle
of a revolver that protruded from the holster at his side. He would have
liked nothing better than to have drawn it and sent a bullet crashing into
the unperturbed brain of his prisoner.

There were reasons of policy why it were better to curb this fascinating
desire, but sometimes the impulse to kill surged up almost uncontrollably.
On these occasions Luck Cullison was usually "deviling" him, the only
diversion that had been open to the ranchman for some days past. Because
of its danger--for he could never be quite sure that Blackwell's lust for
swift vengeance would not over-power discretion--this pastime made a
peculiar appeal to the audacious temper of the owner of the Circle C.

From time to time as Luck read he commented genially on the news.

"I see Tucson is going to get the El Paso & Southwestern extension after
all. I'll bet the boys in that burg will be right tickled to hear it. They
sure have worked steady for it."

Blackwell merely scowled. He never relaxed to the give and take of casual
talk with his captive. Given his way, Cullison would not be here to read
the Sentinel. But the brains of the conspiracy had ruled otherwise and
had insisted too upon decent treatment. With one ankle securely tied to a
leg of the table there was no danger in freeing the hands of the
cattleman, but his hosts saw that never for an instant were hands and feet
at liberty together. For this man was not the one with whom to take
chances.

"Rudd has been convicted of forgery and taken to Yuma. Seems to me you
used to live there, didn't you?" asked the cattleman with cool insolence,
looking up from his paper to smile across at the furious convict.

Blackwell was livid. The man who had sent him to the territorial prison at
Yuma dared to sit there bound and unarmed and taunt him with it.

"Take care," he advised hoarsely.

Cullison laughed and went back to the paper.

"'Lieutenant O'Connor of the Arizona Rangers left town to-day for a short
trip into the hills where he expects to spend a few days hunting.' Hunting
what, do you reckon? Or hunting who, I should say. Ever meet Bucky
O'Connor, Blackwell? No, I reckon not. He's since your time. A crackerjack
too! Wonder if Bucky ain't after some friends of mine."

"Shut up," growled the other.

"Sure you'll be shut up--when Bucky lands you," retorted Luck cheerfully.
Then, with a sudden whoop: "Hello, here's a personal to your address.
Fine! They're getting ready to round you up, my friend. Listen. 'The
friends of L. C. serve notice that what occurred at the Jack of Hearts is
known. Any violence hereafter done to him will be paid for to the limit.
No guilty man will escape.' So the boys are getting busy. I figured they
would be. Looks like your chance of knocking me on the head has gone down
Salt River. I tell you nowadays a man has to grab an opportunity by the
tail when it's there."

The former convict leaned forward angrily. "Lemme see that paper."

His guest handed it over, an index finger pointing out the item. "Large as
life, Blackwell. No, sir. You ce'tainly didn't ride herd proper on that
opportunity."

"Don't be too sure it's gone, Mr. Sheriff."

The man's face was twisted to an ugly sneer back of which lurked cruel
menace. The gray eyes of Cullison did not waver a hair's breadth.

"It's gone. I'm as safe as if I were at the Circle C."

"Don't you think it."

"They've got you dead to rights. Read that personal again. Learn it by
heart. 'The friends of L. C. give warning.' You better believe they're
rounding up your outfit. They know I'm alive. They know all about the Jack
of Hearts. Pretty soon they'll know where you've got me hidden."

"You'd better pray they won't. For if they find the nest it will be
empty."

"Yes?" Luck spoke with ironical carelessness, but he shot an alert keen
glance at the other.

"That's what I said. Want to know where you will be?" the other
triumphed.

"I see you want to tell me. Unload your mind."

Triumph overrode discretion. "Look out of that window behind you."

Luck turned. The cabin was built on a ledge far up on the mountain side.
From the back wall sloped for a hundred feet an almost perpendicular slide
of rock.

"There's a prospect hole down there," Blackwell explained savagely. "You'd
go down the Devil's Slide--what's left of you, I mean--deep into that
prospect hole. The timberings are rotted and the whole top of the working
ready to cave in. When your body hits it there will be an avalanche--with
Mr. Former-sheriff Cullison at the bottom of it. You'll be buried without
any funeral expenses, and I reckon your friends will never know where to
put the headstone."

The thing was devilishly simple and feasible. Luck, still looking out of
the window, felt the blood run cold down his spine, for he knew this
fellow would never stick at murder if he felt it would be safe. No doubt
he was being well paid, and though in this workaday world revenge has gone
out of fashion there was no denying that this ruffian would enjoy evening
the score. But his confederate was of another stripe, a human being with
normal passions and instincts. The cattleman wondered how he could
reconcile it to his conscience to go into so vile a plot with a villain
like the convict.

"So you see I'm right; you'd better pray your friends won't find you.
They can't reach here without being heard. If they get to hunting these
hills you sure want to hope they'll stay cold, for just as soon as they
get warm it will be the signal for you to shoot the chutes."

Luck met his triumphant savagery with an impassive face. "Interesting if
true. And where will you be when my friends arrive. I reckon it won't be a
pleasant meeting for Mr. Blackwell."

"I'll be headed for Mexico. I tell you because you ain't liable to go
around spreading the news. There's a horse saddled in the dip back of the
hill crest. Get it?"

"Fine," Cullison came back. "And you'll ride right into some of Bucky
O'Connor's rangers. He's got the border patroled. You'd never make it."

"Don't worry. I'd slip through. I'm no tenderfoot."

"What if you did? Bucky would drag you back by the scruff of the neck in
two weeks. Remember Chavez."

He referred to a murderer whom the lieutenant of rangers had captured and
brought back to be hanged later.

"Chavez was a fool."

"Was he? You don't get the point. The old days are gone. Law is in the
saddle. Murder is no longer a pleasant pastime." And Cullison stretched
his arms and yawned.

From far below there came through the open window the faint click of a
horse's hoofs ringing against the stones in the dry bed of a river wash.
Swiftly Blackwell moved to the door, taking down a rifle from its rack as
he did so. Cullison rose noiselessly in his chair. If it came to the worst
he meant to shout aloud his presence and close with this fellow. Hampered
as he was by the table, the man would get him without question. But if he
could only sink his fingers into that hairy throat while there was still
life in him he could promise that the Mexican trip would never take
place.

Blackwell, from his place by the door, could keep an eye both on his
prisoner and on a point of the trail far below where horsemen must pass to
reach the cabin.

"Sit down," he ordered.

Cullison's eyes were like finely-tempered steel. "I'd rather stand."

"By God, if you move from there----" The man did not finish his sentence,
but the rifle was already half lifted. More words would have been
superfluous.

A rider came into sight and entered the mouth of the canyon. He was waving
a white handkerchief. The man in the doorway answered the signal.

"Not your friends this time, Mr. Sheriff," Blackwell jeered.

"I get a stay of execution, do I?" The cool drawling voice of the
cattleman showed nothing of the tense feeling within.

He resumed his seat and the reading of the newspaper. Presently, to the
man that came over the threshold he spoke with a casual nod.

"Morning, Cass."

Fendrick mumbled a surly answer. The manner of ironical comradeship his
captive chose to employ was more than an annoyance. To serve his ends it
was necessary to put the fear of death into this man's heart, which was a
thing he had found impossible to do. His foe would deride him, joke with
him, discuss politics with him, play cards with him, do anything but fear
him. In the meantime the logic of circumstances was driving the sheepman
into a corner. He had on impulse made the owner of the Circle C his
prisoner. Seeing him lie there unconscious on the floor of the Jack of
Hearts, it had come to him in a flash that he might hold him and force a
relinquishment of the Del Oro claim. His disappearance would explain
itself if the rumor spread that he was the W. & S. express robber. Cass
had done it to save himself from the ruin of his business, but already he
had regretted it fifty times. Threats could not move Luck in the least. He
was as hard as iron.

So the sheepman found himself between the upper and the nether millstones.
He could not drive his prisoner to terms and he dared not release him. For
if Cullison went away unpledged he would surely send him to the
penitentiary. Nor could he hold him a prisoner indefinitely. He had seen
the "personal" warning in both the morning and the afternoon papers. He
guessed that the presence of the ranger Bucky O'Connor in Saguache was not
a chance. The law was closing in on him. Somehow Cullison must be made to
come through with a relinquishment and a pledge not to prosecute. The only
other way out would be to let Blackwell wreak his hate on the former
sheriff. From this he shrank with every instinct. Fendrick was a hard man.
He would have fought it out to a finish if necessary. But murder was a
thing he could not do.

He had never discussed the matter with Blackwell. The latter had told him
of this retreat in the mountains and they had brought their prisoner here.
But the existence of the prospect hole at the foot of the Devil's Slide
was unknown to him. From the convict's revenge he had hitherto saved Luck.
Blackwell was his tool rather than his confederate, but he was uneasily
aware that if the man yielded to the elemental desire to kill his enemy
the law, would hold him, Cass Fendrick, guilty of the crime.

"Price of sheep good this week?" Cullison asked amiably.

"I didn't come here to discuss the price of sheep with you." Fendrick
spoke harshly. A dull anger against the scheme of things burned in him.
For somehow he had reached an impasse from which there was neither
advance nor retreat.

"No. Well, you're right there. What I don't know about sheep would fill
several government reports. Of course I've got ideas. One of them is----"

"I don't care anything about your ideas. Are you going to sign this
relinquishment?"

Luck's face showed a placid surprise. "Why no, Cass. Thought I mentioned
that before."

"You'd better." The sheepman's harassed face looked ugly enough for
anything.

"Can't figure it out that way."

"You've got to sign it. By God, you've no option."

"No?" Still with pleasant incredulity.

"Think I'm going to let you get away from here now. You'll sign and you'll
promise to tell nothing you know against us."

"No, I don't reckon I will."

Cullison was looking straight at him with his fearless level gaze.
Fendrick realized with a sinking heart that he could not drive him that
way to surrender. He knew that in the other man's place he would have
given way, that his enemy was gamer than he was.

He threw up his hand in a sullen gesture that disclaimed responsibility.
"All right. It's on your own head. I've done all I can for you."

"What's on my head?"

"Your life. Damn you, don't you see you're driving me too far?"

"How far?"

"I'm not going to let you get away to send us to prison. What do you
expect?"

Luck's frosty eyes did not release the other for a moment. "How are you
going to prevent it, Cass?"

"I'll find a way."

"Blackwell's way--the Devil's Slide?"

The puzzled look of the sheepman told Cullison that Blackwell's plan of
exit for him had not been submitted to the other.

"Your friend from Yuma has been explaining how he has arranged for me to
cross the divide," he went on. "I'm to be plugged full of lead, shot down
that rock, and landed in a prospect hole at the bottom."

"First I've heard of it." Fendrick wheeled upon his accomplice with angry
eyes. He was in general a dominant man, and not one who would stand much
initiative from his assistants.

"He's always deviling me," complained the convict surlily. Then, with a
flash of anger: "But I stand pat. He'll get his before I take chances of
getting caught. I'm nobody's fool."

Cass snapped him up. "You'll do as I say. You'll not lift a finger against
him unless he tries to escape."

"Have you seen the Sentinel? I tell you his friends know everything.
Someone's peached. They're hot on our trail. Bucky O'Connor is in the
hills. Think I'm going to be caught like a rat in a trap?"

"We'll talk of that later. Now you go look after my horse while I keep
guard here."

Blackwell went, protesting that he was no "nigger" to be ordered about on
errands. As soon, as he was out of hearing Fendrick turned his thin
lip-smile on the prisoner.

"It's up to you, Cullison. I saved your life once. I'm protecting you now.
But if your friends show up he'll do as he says. I won't be here to stop
him. Sign up and don't be a fool."

Luck's answer came easily and lightly. "My friend, we've already discussed
that point."

"You won't change your mind?"

"Your arguments don't justify it, Cass."

The sheepman looked at him with a sinister significance. "Good enough.
I'll bring you one that will justify it muy pronto."

"It will have to be a mighty powerful one. Sorry I can't oblige you and
your friend, the convict."

"It'll be powerful enough." Fendrick went to the door and called
Blackwell. "Bring back that horse. I'm going down to the valley."





Next: Cass Fendrick Makes A Call

Previous: A Message In Cipher



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