Good Men and True; and, Hit the Line Hard/Hit the Line Hard/Chapter 5

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Chapter V

ROGER DRAKE caught his breath.

"Sir, do you inhale it or do you use a needle? Can you prove any of that?"

"Prove it!" returned Neighbor indignantly. "I don't have to prove it—I know it. It's just gemimini-mentally got to be that way. There ain't no proofs—the kind to convince a jury of peers; but there's no other way to account for what's happened, and, if you're not a natural-born peer, I can show you."

"Among the many beauties that add luster to my character are an aptitude to be shown and a simple willingness to try anything—once. Go to it, old summit! Wise me up!"

"Ver-ree well! Let us examine the simple and jolly facts—well known, but not to you. Tavy Baca is abso-lute-ly the Big Noise in Saragossa County—accent on loot. Nominations and appointments f. o. b. for cash with order. Special terms for convictions and acquittals. Try our land-office decisions. Small graft of all kinds. Corpses to order in neat hardwood boxes. Very Roycrofty. See us before trying elsewhere.

"Laying all juries aside, he's a smart lawyer—Baca. He might be immensely wealthy, but every Mexican within a radius, when he's sick, lazy or in trouble, makes a beeline for Baca and comes away with a jingle in his pocket. It's like packin water in a sieve.

"Gambling, as perhaps you know, is completely stamped out in New Mexico since she joined the glorious sisterhood. Baca would be getting a juicy rake-off from Beck's game. Or, since Baca was your uncle's lawyer, uncle made the necessary arrangements himself, likely."

"But how do you know my uncle was behind Beck?"

"I don't—that comes later. I am now giving you known facts only, and you can build for yourself wherever they'll fit.

"Bennett owns a heap of other people's property. He began life by ruining Brown and Almandares—take thy bill and write down fifty—deliberately smashed 'em so he could get the wreckage. As he began, he kept on—a wrecker. He has no heart, lungs, lights or liver. I knew Almandares; and the good Lord never made a better man than that old Mexican.

"Let me at once show you the impassable gulf between Bennett and a common cheat like Beck, or like Scanlon—blacklegs, card sharps, flimflammers. With the Beck kind, you lose only what they win. The Bennett kind gladly makes you lose ten dollars so he can get one. To end with, Beck and Scanlon showed a tenderness toward you not wholly explained by your many charms of face and form. It was magnificent, hut it was not poker. And there's where I first got the hunch.

"Having stolen the big bundle, they, or either of them, felt a certain delicacy about cheating you for your small change; so what they won from you they won fair. But banker Bennett, with his share put up in moth balls, he's so scared you might find out and pry it away from him that he wants to hire you killed!"

Ducky Drake made an impassioned remark. It was a household word.

"What makes it a good deal worse," added Jones with exceeding bitterness, "is that he picked on me to let the contracts to."

"Well, but——"

"But, nothing! That is one word I can't bear. He offered to cancel the mortgage on my stuff if I d expurgate you. That means nearly two thousand perfectly good bucks. Why? Would Bennett do that from civic pride? Nary! He's got a big bunch of your money—that's why. Is there any other possible reason?"

"Mere as I am," said Ducky, "I can see that. There is not. But how does all this involve the others? And what makes you hook up my uncle with the kitty industry?"

"When a man loves money and not work; when a man has run through three fortunes, two of 'em his own; when he turns up with a taxable income made in Saragossa County—how did he make it? How can he make it? Openly, in mines, sheep, cattle, store-keeping, liquor or law. But, except for one cattle ranch, misses size, your uncle had no business relations—openly.

"What kind of business is done secretly? Business that is very profitable and not well thought of; counterfeiting—smuggling— gambling. This wasn't smuggling—too far from the border. Nor counterfeiting—else he might have printed off enough to let him live in New York. Also, it couldn't possibly be counterfeiting, because it was gambling.

"Now, Beck and Scanlon run the only dens in Saragossa and at Ridgepole. Because they are all involved, your uncle must have been hooked up with gambling; and, because your uncle was hooked up with gambling, they're all involved."

Ducky looked dazed; with tolerable reason.

"Quinliven is involved bad and big and sure. He offered to take your cattle for the full number on the tally book. No cowman would do that. The calves on that tally are sold, lost, strayed, stolen, eaten, skinned, and gone with the wild bunch. Quinnie, he wanted to get little Ducky out of the country.

"That shooting scrape was all fake; so you wouldn't suspect him and Banker Bennett of standin' in. Real sincere people don't empty their guns and not hit anybody—it ain't respectable. But Bennett he intended to make that water hole the explanation of your bein' found dead and promiscuous. That's what he proposed to me."

"Oh, goils, pinch me!"

"Baca is involved by being your uncle's lawyer, and yet not knowing how your uncle extracted that nice little income from Saragossa County; and by being your lawyer and not finding out. And old Beck and Scanlon are involved by their conscientious scruples in not wanting the last rag off your back."

Ducky remonstrated.

"Hi! You put that last in to make it easy—like the Englishman who always added 'and barks like a dog' to all his riddles, to make 'em harder. You're throwing the long arm of coincidence out of socket It won't wash, my Angular-Saxon friend! You're a good old superdreadnought and the best hand at a standing high guess I've ever seen—but we can't go to court waving any wild, wet tale like that."

"Court? Oh, Jemima! Who said court? Let Tavy Baca pick the jury and you couldn't convict one of that push on his own written confession. The right hunch is goin' to be the best evidence, where we settle this case—and that's out of court."

"Do you mean to use force?"

"Thank you, I shouldn't wish any pie. Why, Ducky dear, some of that outfit would lock horns with Julius K. Cæsar if he looked ogle-eyed at em. Tavy Baca especially is a cold proposition—the worst west of a given point. Only one skunk in the firm. That's Bennett. No, sir; if you want to touch that tainted money——"

"I do. Let me leave no chance for misapprehension. I want to roll in it! I want to puddle my paddies in it!"

"Then you've got to guess quick and guess right and guess hard; you've got to mean what you think, and dig in your toes when you pray! To handle this contract you have got to have the hunch, the punch, the pep and the wallop!"

"But, even if you're right——"

"If you say that again I'll quit you!" declared Jones indignantly.

"Don't say dem crool woids to me!" begged Ducky. "You're horribly right—but where are you going to begin? It's like climbing a glass wall."

"Oh, no—not so bad as that! We have one highly important circumstance in our favor. They haven't divided the spoils yet. If they had they wouldn't be trying to get you out of the way. And when they do divide—about this time look out for squalls; for I judge that most of that cash was left on deposit with Bennett. The hell-housekeepers will have the rest—what they had for the house roll when they heard that Uncle Roger had cashed in, and what they've won or lost since.

"When you came on and it became plain that you didn't know anything about your uncle's business, there they were! Bennett couldn't keep it all—the gamblers would give the snap away unless they got their share. They couldn't get it all—Bennett would tell you first."

"Oh, my, my! Birds in their little nests should not fall out!"

Jones ignored the interruption.

"Baca and Quinliven horned in too—they each want a slice; but Bennett won't let it out of his hands till you go home. He's afraid you'll find instructions from your uncle or some sort of a statement."

"Uncle Roger knew, in a vague, general way, that men died; but he thought that was only other people—people in the papers," explained Roger. "And yet he must have kept a pass book, receipts—something to show for his deposits."

"Exactly! Beck and Baca, between them, have got the pass book, and hold it over Bennett's head for a club, likely. That's real funny. Bennett's the one that's taken all the risks, this load. Generally it's somebody else that takes the chances, while Bennett gets the profit."

"Well! You certainly are a wise old fowl!" said Roger with explosive emphasis.

"If your uncle had trusted him, I think, maybe, Quinliven might have come across—I judge he would. I reckon Quinnie, old boy, was just uncle's blind; but he guessed something and butted in to blackmail the blackmailers. To make it nice and pleasant all round, him and Baca will be wanting the gamesters to throw the house roll into the pool along with the rest, and then split it all up, even Stephen. I would right much admire to witness the executive session of that firm when they declare the final dividend!" said Neighbor with a chuckle. Then his brow clouded.

"But I can t. Because we're going to get it. To begin with, suppose you step round and take Quinnie up on his offer for your cattle. Stick out for cash. He hasn't got it, but he'll make the others dig it up from the sinking fund. Right then that company will begin to get a pain in the stumick-ache. They'll see you makin' ready to go 'way and they'll all begin playing for position. You hang to your cattle selling as though you didn't have another idea on earth."

Neighbor Jones rose to go.

"And while you start that I'm going round and throw the clutch of circumstance into the high gear."