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The S Bar Spread








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

The bartender of the La Plata Saloon put a bottle on the bar in front
of the stranger, placing, with an added flourish, a thick-bottomed
whisky glass beside it. This done, he examined the newcomer with an
attentive eye, pretending to polish the bar while doing so.

The man he observed was enough to attract any one's notice, even in the
cosmopolitan cow town of San Felipe. Kid Wolf was worth a second
glance always. The bartender saw a lean-waisted, broad-shouldered
young man whose face was tanned so dark as to belie his rather long
light hair. He wore a beautiful shirt of fringed buckskin, and his
boots were embellished with the Lone Star of Texas, done in silver.
Two single-action Colts of the old pattern swung low from his beaded
belt.

"Excuse me, sir," said the bartender, "but yore drink?"

"Oh, yes," murmured The Kid, and placed a double eagle on the bar.

"No, yuh've already paid fer it." The bartender nodded at the whisky
glass, still level full of the amber liquor. "I was just wonderin' why
yuh didn't down it."

"Oh, yes," said Kid Wolf again. He picked up the glass between thumb
and forefinger and deliberately emptied it into a handy cuspidor. "I
leave that stuff to mah enemies," he said, smiling. "By the way, can
yo' tell me where I can find a Mistah Mullhall, a Mistah Anton, a
Mistah Lathum, a Mistah Wise, and a Mistah Steve Stacy?"

When the bartender could recover himself, he pointed out a table near
the door.

"Wise an' Lathum an' Anton is right there--playin' monte," he said.
"Stacy an' Mullhall was here this mornin', but I don't see 'em now."

Thanking him, Kid Wolf sauntered away from the bar and approached the
gambling table.

The La Plata Saloon was fairly well patronized, even though it lacked
several hours until nightfall. Kid Wolf had taken the measure of the
loiterers at a glance. Most of them were desperadoes. "Outlaw" was
written over their hard faces, and he wondered if Ma Thomas hadn't been
right about the county's general lawlessness. San Felipe seemed to be
well supplied with gunmen.

The three men at the table, although they were "heeled" with .45s, were
of a different type. They were cowmen first, gunmen afterward. Two
were in their twenties; the other was older.

"I beg yo' pahdon, caballeros," said The Kid softly, as he came up
behind them, "but I wish to talk with yo' in private. Wheah can we go?"

There was something in the Texan's voice and bearing that prevented
questions just then. The trio faced about in surprise. Plainly, they
did not know whether to take Kid Wolf for a friend or for a foe. Like
true Westerners, they were not averse to finding out.

"We can use the back room," said one. "Come on, you fellas."

One of them delayed to make a final bet in the came, then he followed.
At a signal to the bartender, the back room, vacant, save for a dozen
bottles, likewise empty, was thrown open to them.

"Have chairs, gentlemen," The Kid invited, as he carefully closed the
door.

The trio took chairs about the table, looking questioningly at the
stranger. The oldest of them picked up a deck of cards and began to
shuffle them absently. Kid Wolf quietly took his place among the trio.

"Boys," he asked slowly, "do yuh want jobs?"

There was a pause, during which the three punchers exchanged glances.

"Lay yore cards face up, stranger," invited one of them. "We'll
listen, anyway, but----"

"I want yo' to go to work fo' the S Bar," said The Kid crisply.

"That settles that," growled the oldest puncher, after sending a
searching glance at the Texan's face. The others looked amazed. "No.
We've quit the S Bar."

"Who suggested that yo' quit?" The Kid shot at them.

The man at the Texan's right flushed angrily. "I don't see that this
is any of yore business, stranger," he barked.

"Men," said The Kid, and his voice was as chill as steel, "I'm makin'
this my business! Yo're comin' back to work fo' the S Bar!"

"And yo're backin' thet statement up--how?" demanded the oldest cow
hand, suddenly ceasing to toy with the card deck.

"With these," returned Kid Wolf mildly.

The trio stared. The Kid had drawn his twin .45s and laid them on the
table so quickly and so quietly that none of them had seen his arms
move.

"Now, I hope," murmured The Kid, "that yo' rather listen to me talk
than to those. I've only a few words to say. Boys, I was surprised.
I didn't think yo' would be the kind to leave a po' woman like Mrs.
Thomas in the lurch. Men who would do that, would do anything--would
even run cattle into Mexico," he added significantly.

All three men flushed to the roots of their hair.

"Don't think we had anything to do with thet!" exclaimed one.

"We got a right to quit if we want to," put in the oldest with a
defiant look.

"Boys, play square with me and yo' won't be sorry," Kid Wolf told them
earnestly. "I know that all these things happened after yo' left.
Since then, cattle have been rustled and Mr. Thomas has been
murdahed--yo' know that as well as I do. That woman might be yo'
mothah. She needs yo'. What's yo' verdict?"

There was a long silence. The three riders looked like small boys
whose hands had been caught in the cooky jar.

"How much did Majah Stovah pay yo' to quit?" added the Texan suddenly.

The former S Bar men jumped nervously. The man at The Kid's left
gulped.

"Well," he blurted, "we was only gettin' forty-five, and when Stover
offered to double it, and with nothin' to do but lie around, why,
we----"

"Things are changed now," said The Kid gently. "Ma Thomas is alone
now."

"That's right," said the oldest awkwardly. "I suppose we ought to----"

"Ought to!" repeated one of the others, jumping to his feet. "By
George, we will! I ain't the kind to go back on a woman like Mrs.
Thomas. I don't care what yuh others do!"

"That's what I say," chorused his two companions in the same breath.

"I'll show yo' I aim to play fair," Kid Wolf approved. He took a
handful of gold pieces from his pocket and placed them on the table in
a little pile. "This is all I have, but Mrs. Thomas isn't in a
position to pay right now, so heah is yo' first month's wages in
advance."

The three looked at him and gulped. If ever three men were ashamed,
they appeared to be. The old cow-puncher pushed the pile back to The
Kid.

"We ain't takin' it," he mumbled. "Don't get us wrong, partner. We
ain't thet kind. We never would've quit the S Bar if it hadn't been
for Steve Stacy--the foreman. And, of course, things was goin' all
right at the ranch then. Guess it's all our fault, and we're willin'
to right it. We don't know yuh, but yo're O.K., son."

They shook hands warmly. The Kid learned that the oldest of the three
was Anton. Wise was the bow-legged one, and Lathum was freckled and
tall.

"Stacy hadn't better know about this," Lathum decided.

"I was hopin' to get him back," said The Kid.

"No chance. He's in with the major now," spoke up Wise. "So's
Mullhall. Neither of 'em will listen--and they'll make trouble when
they find we're goin' back."

"If yo'-all feel the same way as I do," Kid Wolf drawled as they filed
out of the back room, "they won't have to make trouble. It'll be theah
fo' 'em."

As they approached the bar, Anton clutched The Kid's elbow.

"There's Steve Stacy and Mullhall now," he warned in a low voice.

Stacy and Mullhall were big men, heavily built. Upon seeing the party
emerge from the back room, they pushed away from the bar and came
directly toward Kid Wolf, who was walking in the lead.

"Steve Stacy's the hombre in front," Wise whispered. "Be on yore
guard."

The Kid knew the ex-foreman's type even before he spoke. He was the
loud-mouthed and overbearing kind of waddy--a gunman first and a cowman
afterward. His beefy face was flushed as red as his flannel shirt.
His eyes were fixed boldly on the Texan.

"The barkeeper tells me yuh were inquirin' fer me," he said heavily.
"What's on yore mind?"

Mullhall was directly behind him, insolent of face and bearing. The
two seemed to be paying no attention to the trio of men behind The Kid.

"I was just goin' to offah yo' a chance to come back to the S Bar,"
explained Kid Wolf. "These three caballeros have already signed the
pay roll again."

It was putting up the issue squarely, with no hedging. Both Stacy and
Mullhall darkened with fury.

"What's yore little game? I guess it's about time to put an extra
spoke in yore wheel!" snarled Mullhall, coming forward.

"Who in blazes are you?" sneered Stacy.

"Just call me The Wolf!" The Kid barked. "I'm managin' the S Bar right
now, and if yo' men don't want to be friends, I'll be right glad to
have yo' fo' enemies!"

Mullhall had pressed very close. It was as if the whole thing had been
prearranged. His hands suddenly shot out and seized Kid Wolf's
arms--pinning them tightly.

It was an old and deadly trick. While Mullhall pinioned the Texan,
Steve Stacy planned to draw and shoot him down. The pair had worked
together like the cogwheels of a machine, and all was perfectly timed.
Stacy drew like a flash, cocking his .45 as it left the holster.

The play, however, was not worked fast enough. Kid Wolf was not to be
victimized by such a threadbare ruse. He was too fast, too strong. He
whirled Mullhall about, his left boot went behind Mullhall's legs.
With all his force he threw his weight against him, tearing his arms
free.

Mullhall went backward like a catapult, directly at Stacy. The gun
exploded in the air, and as the slug buzzed into the roof, both
Mullhall and the exforeman went down like bags of meal--a tangled maze
of legs and arms.

"Get up," The Kid drawled. "And get out!"

Kid Wolf had not bothered to draw his guns, but Anton, Wise, and Lathum
had reached for theirs, and they had the angry pair covered. Stacy
changed his mind about whirling his gun on his forefinger as he
recovered it, and sullenly shoved it into its holster.

"We'll get yuh!" snarled Stacy, his furious eyes boring into The Kid's
cool gray ones. "San Felipe is too small to hold both of us!"

"Bueno," said The Kid calmly. "I wish yo' luck--yo'll need it. But
in the meantime--vamose pronto!"

Swearing angrily, the two men obeyed. It seemed the healthiest thing
to do just then. They slunk out like whipped curs, but The Kid knew
their breed.

He would see them again.


"Oh, the wintah's sun is shinin' on the Rio,
I'm ridin' in mah homeland and I find it mighty nice;
Life is big and fine and splendid on the Rio,
With just enough o' trouble fo' the spice!"


If Kid Wolf's improvised song was wanting from a poetical standpoint,
the swinging, lilting manner in which he crooned it made up for its
defects. His tenor rose to the canyon walls, rich and musical.

"Our cake's plumb liable to be overspiced with trouble," Frank Lathum
said with a laugh.

Kid Wolf, with his three newly hired riders, were well on their way to
the S Bar. His companions knew of a short route that would take them
directly to the Thomas hacienda, and they were following a steep-walled
canyon out of the mesa lands to the westward.

"Look!" cried Wise. "Somebody's coming after us!"

They turned and saw a lone horseman riding toward them from the
direction of San Felipe. The rider was astride a fast-pacing Indian
pony and overhauling them rapidly. Since leaving the town, Kid Wolf's
party had been in no hurry, and this had enabled the rider to overtake
them.

"It's Goliday," muttered Anton, shading his weather-beaten eyes with a
brown hand.

"Just who is he?" The Kid drawled.

"I think he's really the hombre behind Major Stover," Wise spoke up.
"He owns the ranch to the north o' the S Bar, and from what I hear,
Stover has been tryin' to buy it fer him."

"Oh," The Kid murmured, "let's wait fo' him then, and heah what he has
to say."

Accordingly, the four men drew up to a halt and wheeled about to face
the oncoming ranchman. They could see him raising his hand in a signal
for them to halt. He came up in a cloud of dust, checked his pony, and
surveyed the little party. His eyes at once sought out Kid Wolf.

Goliday was a man of forty, black-haired and sallow of face. He wore a
black coat and vest over a light-gray shirt. Beneath the former peeped
the ivory handle of a .45.

"Hello," panted the newcomer. "Are you the hombre that caused all the
stir back in San Felipe?"

"What can I do fo' yo'?" asked the Texan briefly.

"Well," said Goliday, "let's be friends. I'll be quite frank. I want
the S Bar. Is it true yo're goin' there to run the place for the old
woman?"

"It is," The Kid told him.

"I'll pay yuh well to let the place alone," offered Goliday after a
pause. "I'll give five thousand cash for the ranch, and if the deal
goes through, why I'm willin' to ante up another thousand to split
between you four.

"I'm a generous man, and it'll pay to have me for a friend. Savvy? As
an enemy I won't be so good. Now, Mr. Wolf, if that's yore name, just
advise Mrs. Thomas to sell right away. Is it a bargain?"

"It's mo' than that," murmured The Kid softly. "It's an insult."

Goliday did not seem to hear this remark. He reached into his vest and
drew out something that glittered in the sun.

"Here's a hundred and twenty to bind the bargain--six double eagles.
And there's more where these came from. Will yuh take 'em?"

"I'll take 'em," drawled Kid Wolf. He reached out for the gold, and
they clinked into his palm.

"I'll take 'em," he repeated, "and beah's what I'll do with 'em!"

With a sweeping movement, he tossed them high into the air. The sun
glittered on them as they went up. Then, with his other hand, The Kid
drew one of his guns.

Before the handful of coins began to drop, The Kid was firing at them.
He didn't waste a bullet. With each quick explosion a piece of gold
flew off on a tangent. Br-r-rang, cling! Br-r-rang, ting! There
were six coins, and The Kid fired six times. He never missed one! He
picked the last one out of the air, three feet from the ground.

Goliday watched this exhibition of uncanny target practice with bulging
eyes. As the echoes of the last shot died away, he turned on The Kid
with a bellow of wrath.

"No, yo' don't!" Kid Wolf sang out.

Goliday took his hand away from the butt of his ivory-handled gun. The
Texan had pulled his other revolver with the bewildering speed of a
magician. Goliday was covered, "plumb center."

"That's our answah, sah!" The Kid snapped.

Goliday's sallow face was red with rage.

"I have power here!" he rasped. "And yuh'll hear from me! There's
only one law in this country, and that's six-gun law--yuh'll feel it
within forty-eight hours!"

"Is that so?" said The Kid contemptuously. "I have a couple of lawyahs
heah that can talk as fast as any in San Felipe County. The S Bar
accepts yo' challenge. Come on, boys. Let's don't waste any mo' time
with this."

Grinning, the quartet struck out again westward, leaving the
disgruntled ranchman behind. The last they saw of him, he was kicking
about in the mesquite, looking for his gold.





Next: Desperate Measures

Previous: A Buckshot Greeting



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