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Authors: Max Brand

Silvertip's Roundup

BOOK: Silvertip's Roundup
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Also available in Large Print by Max Brand:

Max Brand's Best Western Stories, Volume I

Max Brand's Best Western Stories, Volume II

One Man Posse

Rivers of the Silences

Singing Guns

The Fastest Draw

The Nighthawk Trail

SILVERTIP'S
ROUNDUP

Max Brand

a division of F+W Media, Inc.

I
Horseshoe Flat

To “Taxi,” the town of Horseshoe Flat looked cold. As the train departed, he remained on the station platform, staring until there was only a thin puff of smoke far away and a faint humming of the rails. Horseshoe Flat seemed empty. It stood all alone. The mountains around it were spectators, not a part of the scene. The day was hot enough, but the mountains were chiefly blue and white, and the sky came down too close to the ground.

There was nothing to cast shadows. The houses were too small, too far apart. There were no narrow alleys to offer mouths of twilight to one who does not desire too much observation. There were no lofty buildings cut into thin slices of regularly spaced windows, every building a wilderness where a cunning man could lose himself. There were no closely joining fields of roofs all at about one level, broken with skylights, ventilators, a forest of chimneys, where one could skulk as through a forest.

No, Horseshoe Flat seemed to be held up to the eye like a small coin in the palm of a hand. There was too much sky; there was too much light. Taxi didn't like it.

Then he remembered that he had a good pair of automatics under his coat and that his stay need not be long. Joe Feeley had been dead barely five days. Taxi had caught the first train out of New York to come West — the first train after he saw the news in the papers. And as soon as the killer of Joe Feeley was dead, Taxi could go home again.

He picked up his suitcase and walked to the corner of the platform. There sat the station agent on a hand truck, chewing a toothpick and looking at Taxi with curious eyes. Station agents are always curious. They seemed to know that sooner or later a policeman might come along and say: “Did you see a man about five feet ten, with black hair and kind of pale eyes? About twenty-three or four. You'd remember him by his eyes.” That was the curse of Taxi's life — his eyes. He could fix himself in other ways, but he could not fix his eyes. That was why he had been in prison for ten years out of the twenty-two he had lived — prison or reform school.

Now he said to the station agent: “How d'you get uptown?”

The station agent pointed down. “Got sore feet?” he asked.

Taxi was about to look him in the face, but instinct saved him. He had learned years ago that it is better not to look people in the face; then they don't have a chance to see that you have pale eyes.

Back there in the “Big Noise” it meant something when Taxi looked a man suddenly and coldly in the face. When Taxi “gave a man the eye,” the other fellow was apt to move right on out of town, if he had his wits about him. But even out here it was best to be careful, so Taxi swallowed the discourtesy and walked up the street.

As the weight of the suitcase pulled down on his arm, he was glad that he was in training, though it was not for carrying suitcases that he slaved in a gym. It was because, on three or four occasions in every free year, he could be sure that the speed of a sidestep, the ability to give wings to his heels, or perhaps his skill in climbing up the outside of a building, would mean money or life to him. That was why he had to keep himself in good shape.

It was a wretched business heaving medicine bags, climbing ropes, wrestling with ponderous fellows who had fifty pounds plus on him, or going through grueling rounds with the gloves. He never could please “Paddy” Dennis until he “went crazy.” Whenever he “went crazy,” Paddy used to jump out of the ring and lean on the ropes, laughing at him.

“You've got the stuff, kid,” Paddy would say on occasions like that. “You've got the stuff in your pocket, but you hate to spend it. That right hook's a nacheral.
You're
a nacheral. When you go nutty, you're too nacheral for me!”

That was the way Paddy used to talk. But Taxi never wanted to “go crazy.” He felt it was bad for him. It was bad for his brain, his nerve centers, his control. It may be all right to “go crazy” when you're using your fists and you have a target as big as a man at arm's length, but it's bad to “go crazy” when you're using a revolver and the other fellow is across the street. That is delicate work, the sort of delicate work that Taxi had to be in shape for every day he spent outside of prison. It must be all cool brains and speed and steady nerves, if you want to get your man. Taxi had got his man before, and he was in Horseshoe Flat to get another. But he forgave the deadly bore of the gymnasium as he walked up the street on this day, carrying the solid weight of the suitcase.

The newspaper office was so small that he almost went by it. Imagine a newspaper office like that!

He turned in and asked for a file. The red-headed girl who talked to him looked him right in the face. She put her hands on her hips and looked at him.

What sort of a woman was she to stare like that?

“Are you a traveling salesman? Is that why you wanta see the file?” she asked.

“I've traveled some,” said Taxi. He had to look back at her. The way she was staring, he had to glance back at her, but he kept his eyes rather down so that the black of the long lashes would cover the paleness of his eyes.

She showed him where the file was, in a little cubbyhole of a room with the floor covered by cigarette butts.

“This is the devil of a town,” said Taxi to himself, and sat down to look over the file.

He expected the paper which contained the account of the killing five brief days before would be thumbed to wrinkles. He was surprised to find it as crisp as any of the other copies. He scanned the first page and found nothing about Joe Feeley's death.

He looked up at the date, and found that it was right. Maybe they didn't write up the news the day after a thing happened. He looked at the next paper, but there was nothing about Joe on the front page. He turned back to the first copy. Nothing on the front page. Nothing on the second page. Nothing on the third page. Nothing on the fourth page — yes, down there beside the advertising on this inside page there appeared this account of Joe Feeley's death.

Afterward, he could remember it line for line.

NEW YORKER DIES

E
ASTERNER
K
ILLED IN THE
R
OUND-UP
B
AR

Last night at 11:15 in Porky Smith's Round-up Bar a stranger named Joseph Feeley ran into Charlie Larue. They didn't argue long. Charlie Larue fanned three shots through the stranger, and when Feeley was picked up, there was a gun in his hand that hadn't been fired.

The bystanders said that there was some talk of a lady during the brief dispute. She was said to be Miss Sally Creighton, the popular young lady who runs the Creighton Boarding House. It appears that she went to a dance a few days ago with Mr. Feeley, and Mr. Larue seemed heated up about the idea.

The deputy sheriff, Mr. Tom Walters, arrived shortly after the shooting. He decided that Joe Feeley had died in self-defense.

That was about all there was to the article.

Taxi decided that he would have to go out and look this town over from a new viewpoint. They seemed to be tough, in this part of the world. A man could die of self-defense, out here.

He remembered how the girl in the outer newspaper office had put her hands on her hips and stared at him. He felt that he could understand this better now.

He closed his eyes and found himself repeating the article. There were a few lines at the bottom which he had omitted. He opened the paper and regarded them again:

Joseph Feeley will be buried some time today in the graveyard at the end of Lincoln Boulevard.

Taxi went out to the sidewalk with his hat pulled down over his eyes. The suitcase seemed to weigh nothing. And all he could see was the funny, long, laughing face of Joe Feeley. He had liked Joe Feeley. Joe Feeley was the sort of a fellow you could count on in a pinch, and he wasn't always shooting off his face about what he had done after the job was finished. Joe Feeley could drink his liquor and keep his mouth shut. He was that sort of a fellow. Plenty of fun, but no noise. No noise at the wrong moments.

Now, if Taxi could find Mr. Charlie Larue, the business might be quickly completed in this town where men died of self-defense!

There was something else to be attended to, first.

He asked for Lincoln Boulevard and was directed to it. The name was much grander than the fact. It was a long, straight, wide, dusty street. Aspiring citizens who wanted to make Horseshoe Flat bigger and better had planted trees along the sides and protected them with tall wooden cages. It looked as though some narrow-headed or long-tongued animals had been browsing off the foliage of these young trees. Those which were not chewed down had died from the lack of water.

Taxi walked to the foot of the street. Just at the point where Horseshoe Flat dissolved into open country, he found a barbed-wire fence around a plot of ground, and painted on the top board of a wooden gate were the words “Boot Hill Cemetery.”

He paused and regarded it with care. He had heard of such a custom in the West, where an unknown victim of a gun fight might be put away at the public expense.

The more he thought about Horseshoe Flat, the less he liked it. The more he thought about Horseshoe Flat, the less he liked the people who lived in it.

He opened the gate and went inside. Grass grew knee-high in spots. It grew over a great many of the graves. He parted the grass with his feet and found tombstones. They were just chunks of stone with one side flattened by nature or chiseling, and into the stones a few words were generally chipped.

H
ERE
L
IES
D
ICK
C
HANNERY

J
UST
T
HE
W
AY
T
ONY
F
ELLOWS

D
ROPPED
H
IM.

Or again he found:

B
IG
T
IM
L
IES
H
ERE

S
LOW
J
OE
M
URPHY
S
HRANK
H
IM
D
OWN
T
O

T
HIS
S
IZE.

There was a fresh grave near the opposite fence. The soil had not been smoothed down. It simply lay in big, clayey shovelfuls, heaped above the surface and below the stone, blue-gray from the stone cutter's chisel, on which were marked the words:

H
ERE'S
J
OSEPH
F
EELEY

W
HO
C
AUGHT
L
ARUE AND
D
IED OF IT.

The date was underneath. There had been no date on most of the other graves.

“They're funny,” said Taxi to himself. “They're damned funny.”

He turned and looked with his pale, shining eyes at the town, and hated it. Some small boys were standing at the fence now. They pointed at him and laughed.

He hated the boys even. There was nothing to be said for this great, naked section of his native country. There was nothing to be said for the people who lived in it, either. Not even for the boys!

He turned back to the grave.

Somehow, he felt that something ought to be done, but he hardly knew what. He had had little experience.

Some of his friends had gone up Salt Creek, and the State took care of fellows like that. Some of them had simply disappeared. That was usually the way. One day you saw a fellow, and the next day he was gone. Nobody knew anything about it. After a while you knew he had been taken for a ride. That was all. Or else a fellow went out of town, to Chicago or Pittsburgh, or some place like that, and he never came back. But funerals were few and far between, and this was not even a funeral. It was just a stone with a joke on it, and a pile of clods over what had been a hole in the ground.

In the tangle of the grass there were some big blue flowers growing. He could not tell what they were. He knew nothing about flowers except what you find in the window of a florist's shop. Some of the fellows would pay a lot of money and send flowers like that to a girl. Taxi never did it. He had no girl.

But he picked some of these flowers. They had no fragrance, but only a green, rank smell. He picked quite a lot of them, and they made a big purple-blue bunch in his hand. When he put them on the raw, red clods, they looked rather silly, he thought. They looked as though the strength of the sun would wilt them in a few minutes. In fact, they seemed to be fading already.

He turned his back, because he did not want to see the flowers die on Joe's grave. He looked around him. It was a funny thing that Joe should lie here with the big mountains looking down at him with their blue-and-white faces.

BOOK: Silvertip's Roundup
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