Fires of Fate/Chapter 1
MONK MAGEE is so doggone low-down that he could put on a plug-hat and walk under a snake,” declared Bud Conley seriously, as he turned in the doorway and looked back at Inspector Grandon of the Royal North west Mounted Police, who was seated at a desk, looking indifferently at a paper which Bud had just placed before him.
Grandon’s eyebrows lifted a trifle, but he did not look at Bud, as he said crisply, “Perhaps that is true, Conley; still, he is no fool.”
“You mean that he’s got brains?” asked Bud. “Hell! All Magee’s head is good for is to keep his ears from rubbin’ on each other.”
Grandon’s thin lips twisted slightly.quaint sayings amused him at times, although he hated to admit it. Conley’s indifference to discipline, absolute disregard for his superior officers, rasped Grandon to the quick; and he was not at all sorry that Conley was no longer a member of the R. N. W. M. P.
“I reckon I can consider m’self fired, can’t I?” queried Bud, as he slowly rolled a cigarette.
“Yes. You are no longer a member of the force, Conley.”
“And I never even got m’self drunk like a gentleman,” wailed Bud. “One big shot of wobble-water and I went out and lost m’ fly-wheel. Hell’s delight, but that Magee hootch would make a moth-miller lick a hen-hawk!”
“And there was that complaint from Beaudet,” reminded the inspector softly and meaningly.
Bud whirled quickly and came back to the desk.
“That was a damn lie!” he snapped, as he leaned forward, his gray eyes boring into the startled face of the officer.
“I’m no longer a policeman, Grandon—remember that. I’ve handed in m’ resignation, you’ll notice. I may only be a cowboy from Montana, as some of the red coats have said behind my back, but I’ve got a mother some’ers and I used t’ have a sister.”
The anger faded from Bud’s eyes and a wistful expression crossed his seamed face, as his mind seemed to flash back through time. Then he shook his head and looked at the inspector.
“Hold your temper!” ordered the inspector coldly. “I am not in the habit of being——”
“Aw-w-w, hell!” interrupted Bud wearily. "I dunno how I’ve stood this as long as I have; danged if I do.”
He turned away and walked back to the door, looking at the thumb and index finger of his right hand, which were badly stained with ink. Bud had little education, and the writing of his resignation, brief as it was, had been a man-sized task.
Bud was of medium height, slim-waisted, long-armed. His pugnacious jaw, tilted nose and mop of unruly hair gave no lie to his ancestry. He hated discipline, petty details, and his blood inheritance from a line of Irish ancestors rebelled and his tongue snapped in spite of punishment. Bud had been a top-hand in cow-land, which meant ability—plus.
Just now Bud was both mad and muddled. The day before he had been sent out to try and locate the party or parties who had been selling whisky to a bunch of Indians.
Liquor was taboo, even to the whites, but the Mounted had never been able to stop its import. The Indians had secured a large quantity—large enough to incite them to wondrous deeds—with the result that a number of them had made a pilgrimage to the Happy Hunting ground.
The little town of Kingsburg was a sore spot to the Mounted. Here lived Monk Magee, a big, burly, bull-necked individual, who hated the Mounted, and was a never-ending source of irritation to them. The town’s close proximity to the border of the United States made it a useful place for the outlaws of both sides of the boundary. To them it was but a mythical line, to be crossed at will; a line which gave them sort of a sanctuary and blocked the efforts of law enforcement.
Magee was proprietor of a hotel—the Magee Rest. No one, or at least very few, people ever put up at his hostelry; but Magee waxed prosperous and never complained over poor business. The border element came to Magee’s place, and he was usually surrounded by a bunch of questionable characters. But the Mounted were unable to fasten horse or cattle stealing or liquor running onto Magee.
The day before his forced resignation Bud had gone to Kingsburg, hoping for something to happen to break the monotony—and it did. At Magee’s place Bud ran into two punchers from just over the Montana border, and Bud knew these two men as rustlers. They knew Bud, but did not recognize him.
The place was orderly enough, as far as Bud could see, but he was, as he expressed it, “a little leary of the whole outfit.” Magee was outwardly friendly to Bud, and talked to him about the Indian liquor selling trouble.
“I sabe how they suspect me,” said Magee confidentially, “and mebbe I don’t blame ’em. I’ve got a little good liquor, Conley—for my friends.”
“Thasall right,” admitted Bud. “I ain’t ridin’ yuh, am I, Magee? ’F yo’re sellin’ hootch to the reds, you’ll get yours sooner or later. The Mounties always get their man, yuh know.”
“Sure, I sabe that, Conley, but just t’ show yuh that I ain’t concealin’ anythin’, I’ll ask yuh to have a little drink from my private stock. Whatcha say?”
“I’ll say that she’s a long dry spell,” said Bud.
Magee went into the rear room of the place and came out with two glasses of liquor. There was no attempt at concealing anything. The liquor was very strong and of a peculiar taste, but Bud did not feel that anything was wrong until Magee’s face and form began to separate into many more Magees; so many that the room seemed densely populated with Magees.
Then the Magee army and everything else faded out and Bud’s senses with them. When Bud came back to his senses he found himself at headquarters, his clothes whisky soaked, a bottle of liquor in his pocket and disgrace staring him in the face.
From the lips of old Angus MacPherson Bud found out that he had been found on the road, just at the outskirts of Kingsburg, drunk as a fool. And with him was Marie Beaudet, a young half-breed girl, just as drunk as he.
He was also informed by MacPherson, who had no sympathy for anybody, that Joe Burgoyne, who was engaged to Marie Beaudet, had sworn to kill him on sight—if old Louis Beaudet did not beat him to it. Joe was a gambling half-breed, with a hawk-like face, a lean, lithe body and uncanny ability with a knife.
Bud scowled deeply and it seemed to please MacPherson immensely.
“And Bur-r-goyne will do it, too,” declared the Scot ominously. “He’s a de’il with a knife. And don’t ye over-r-look old Louie and his shotgun.”
“Yuh sure can think of a lot of sweet things, you damn old cockle-burr,” groaned Bud.
MacPherson grinned maliciously. “And as for-r-r Miss Nor-r-rah Clarey-”
MacPherson ducked quickly and Bud’s boot-heel hit the wall behind him.
“Leave her name out of it!” snapped Bud. “I don’t know a blamed thing that happened, Mac.”
“Ye’ll no deny ye were drunk, will ye?”
“On one drink?” snorted Bud.
“It must ha’ been a lar-r-ge one, lad.” MacPherson shook his gray head wonderingly. “Mebbe ye were usin’ a washtub,
Bud shook his head and spat dryly. “My tongue is plum corroded, Mac. What did the inspector say?”
MacPherson shook his head slowly. “What could he say, lad? Ye have disgraced the for-r-ce; so he says. Don’t ye know that the Royal Northwest Mounted——?”
“Aw, shut up!” wailed Bud. “What don’t I know about rules and regulations? Ain’t I had ’em fired at my head ever since I dressed myself up like a Royal chinook salmon and swore to never pull a gun except in self defense? I didn’t ask yuh for a ruling, you long-faced old leather-knees—I asked yuh what the inspector said.”
“I’ll not repeat it,” declared MacPherson. “He sent McKay out on your detail and told me to sober ye up long enough for-r-r ye to answer a few questions. Dr. Clarey was the one that found ye—him and Joe Burgoyne.”
“Yeah?” Bud grimaced and scratched his touseled hair nervously. “Clarey, eh? What was he doin’ up there?”
“A man got half killed in a brawl, so he says. Burgoyne came after Dr. Clarey, and they found ye maudling drunk, and with ye was the little Marie, and she was——"
“Aw, shut up,” snorted Bud, as he got to his feet. “I’m goin’ in and have it over with. If Joe Burgoyne sticks a knife into me I hope it’ll be in the stummick; I’ve no use for that part of me.”
Bud kicked the door shut behind him and went to face Inspector Grandon; after which he wrote his resignation. Grandon had said little during the session. Bud denied everything except taking the drink of liquor, but the evidence was all against him.
But just now Bud was not worrying about his discharge nor about disgracing the force; he was thinking about little Norah Clarey. She was a proud little brown-eyed miss, with raven tresses. Black Irish, MacPherson called her. And Bud’s whole future was built around Norah Clarey, whether she knew it or not. Now, he knew that she had heard from her father of what he had done, and, if he had not misjudged her, she would never speak to him again. All of which caused Bud to have a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, along with the rest of his internal misery. The fact that both Burgoyne and old Louis Beaudet desired his scalp did not worry Bud in the least.
Old Louis was the proprietor of the store at Eagle Nest, the R. N. W. M. P. headquarters. There was little more than the store and the buildings used by the Mounted, but old Louis did a fair business. Mrs. Beaudet was a Cree squaw, very fat and very indifferent.
Eagle’s Nest was too far South for Louie to get any of the fur trade, but the outlying cattle ranches, prospectors, etc., gave him a fair trade. But Louie was the type of Northern trader, canny as a Scot, but caring little beyond his immediate needs.
Marie was a little, black-eyed thing, adored above everything by old Louie, whose gray beard swept almost to his waist and whose whisper was almost a roar. He was a typical old French-Canadian, quick to answer, quick to forgive and with the strength of a grizzly bear.
Bud could see the front of the store from where he stood on the headquarters steps. Directly across from him was the barracks building, and as Bud glanced that way a tall, rangy policeman came out of the building and crossed toward him. He came in close before he spoke.
“What did the inspector have to say, Conley?”
“I didn’t listen much,” grinned Bud, “but I got enough to know that he didn’t need me any longer, Henderson.”
“And you resigned?”
“Well,” drawled Bud, “I didn’t want to disappoint him.”
“That’s too bad,” sighed Henderson.
“Don’t bawl about it,” begged Bud. “’F there’s anythin’ I hate it’s t’ see a policeman cryin’. I reckon I can bear m’ burden.”
Henderson smiled. He had been Bud’s bunkie and liked Bud, in spite of the fact that Bud laughed at the traditions of the Royal Mounted. Henderson was heart and soul in the service.
“Going to leave this country, Conley?” he asked.
Henderson glanced toward Beaudet’s store and stepped in closer to Bud. “Keep your eyes open, Conley. Beaudet is half crazy and Burgoyne is as venomous as a snake. Dr. Clarey has been trying to talk sense into both of them, but I don’t think he has done much good.”
“Henderson, do you think I got that girl drunk?”
“I don’t want to, Conley.”
“Then yuh do,” said Bud quickly, “but it don’t make no never mind.”
He turned, as though to walk away from Henderson, but stopped. Two horses were coming down the street; two saddled horses, without riders, and one of the saddles had turned and was under the horse’s belly, greatly impeding its progress.
“That is McKay’s horse—that roan!” exclaimed Henderson, naming the trooper who had replaced Bud. “The other belongs to Cree George, McKay’s packer. I wonder what has gone wrong.”
They caught the horses and led them up to the front of the headquarters. Bud removed the saddles, while Henderson reported it to Grandon. An examination showed that neither horse had been injured.
“Broke loose and came back,” was Grandon’s comment.
“Which don’t fit the case at all,” declared Bud. “McKay always uses a tie-rope and so does the Injun.”
Grandon looked curiously at Bud. “Are tie-ropes unbreakable?” he asked, a trifle vexed.
“No,” Bud shook his head slowly, “but it ain’t noways reasonable t’ suppose that both of them horses would break loose in such a way as t’ leave their ropes; and a tie-rope don’t usually break in the neck-loop. Ain’t neither horse got a rope nor a rope-burn. Nawsir, them two broncs were untied.”
“What do you think, Henderson?” asked Grandon.
“I think that Conley is right, sir.”
“Possibly. You will go at once to Kingsburg and try to get in communication with McKay, Henderson.”
Henderson snapped a salute, whirled on his heel and started for the stables. Bud turned his back on Grandon and began rolling a cigarette.
“Do yuh know what I think?” asked Bud slowly.
Grandon seemed to have little interest in what Bud thought, and did not reply.
“I think that Kingsburg is a hell of a place to send one officer, Grandon.”
“Yes?” Grandon’s voice held a trifle of a sneer, “but McKay does not drink.”
“Then he won’t get off as cheaply as I did.”
“What do you mean, Conley?”
“I mean that there’s somethin’ queer about that danged place. A week ago I seen somethin’ that I never reported to you, Grandon. I was comin’ down past there at night and I looked it over from that knoll back of town. I seen at least twenty men go into Magee’s place.
“It kinda struck me as bein’ queer; so I rode down and went in. I found Magee and one Injun in there. Magee offered me a drink of hootch, but I didn’t take it. There was at least twenty men went in there, and I found two.”
“I can hardly credit that statement, Conley.”
"Hell, you ain’t got nothin’ on me,” grinned Bud.
“You knew that Magee had a stock of liquor?”
“So did you,” retorted Bud. “You know damn well that Magee is responsible for most all of the liquor that comes into this district, but you can’t nail him with it. You send one man in there to buck that whole bunch. Don’t you know that every smuggler, rustler, bootlegger is on Magee’s side? What can can one man do?
“You swell out your chest and imagine that the R. N. W. M. W P. is all powerful, don’tcha? They ain’t. A red coat ain’t got a Chinaman’s chance in Kingsburg. I know Magee and his outfit. He told me that I was wastin’ m’ time tryin’ t’ put the deadwood on him, and that, if I’d quit the force, he’d show me how to make more money than the force ever paid anybody.”
Grandon’s eyes fairly snapped with anger, but he knew down deep in his heart that Bud was right. Their efforts against Magee had been dismal failures, but he did hate to be told in such plain language. Without a word he turned and went back into the house.
“I reckon his hide ain’t as thick as I thought it was,” mused Bud. “And I didn’t say ‘sir’ to him once.”
He stepped off the porch and headed straight for Beaudet’s store. Bud was not the kind that waited for trouble to come to him. His mind was a total blank as to what he had done after taking that one drink, but he felt sure that he had nothing to do with the plight of little Marie Beaudet. He knew that it had been a frame-up, but just why they had included the half-breed girl in it he had no idea. Magee was responsible for the doping, and Bud felt sure that Magee had done it to disgrace him with the Mounted and get him out of the way.
Louis Beaudet and Dr. Clarey were standing near the center of the room, talking softly, while Joe Burgoyne sat on a counter beyond them, staring at the floor. Bud stopped near old Louis, who looked up at him.
“You?” said Louie hoarsely. “You come here—you?”
He made a move, as though to reach for Bud, but the doctor grasped him by the
“Softly, me old friend,” he begged.
Came the sudden creak of the rough counter and Joe Burgoyne, the half-breed, flung himself straight at Bud, a knife in his hand. Burgoyne was only about ten feet away, and his spring was like that of a panther, but Bud was not caught napping.
Swiftly he side-stepped just in time to avoid Joe’s rush, and as Joe flashed past him, Bud hooked him across the ankles with his foot, sending the half-breed spinning against the counter across the room.
The fight was all taken out of Joe. His long-bladed knife had flipped out of his hand and skidded under the counter—and Joe was not a bare-handed fighter. He swore softly and felt of his face, which had come into rasping contact with the rough counter.
“If I didn’t feel sorry for yuh, I’d tie yuh in a knot and leave yuh to starve,” declared Bud.
“Sorry?” Old Louie started forward. “You sorry?”
“Yeah,” nodded Bud.
“W’at you sorry for, policeman?”
“I ain’t no policeman now,” said Bud. “I’m fired.”
It took Louie several moments to digest this bit of information.
“So? Yo’ not be de policeman now, eh? Not’ing to keep me from kill you now, eh?” he asked finally.
“Nobody but me. Mebbe I’ll object.”
Bud was in just the right mood to battle everyone in Eagle’s Nest. Joe got up slowly, holding to the counter, while Dr. Clarey still clung to Louie’s arm, talking soothingly.
Someone was coming into the store, and Bud turned to see Norah Clarey. She stopped and looked at Bud, and her dark eyes were filled with pain. She turned and looked at Joe. He tried to smile, but it was more of a smirk. Then she ignored Bud and spoke directly to Louie and her father.
“I have heard of the swift justice of the North, but it seems to have been only idle talk.”
“W’at you mean?” asked Louie.
“You would let this man stay here, after what he has done?”
“He shall not stay,” declared Joe firmly.
“You better run along and find your knife, Breed,” said Bud.
“Breed!” exploded Joe. “You’ll pay for——”
Bud whirled and started toward Joe, who got swiftly out of the way by vaulting the counter.
“I say he shall not stay!” roared old Louie.
“Aw, don’t roar about it!” snapped Bud. “Ain’t a feller got any right to a defense? The Mounted kicked me out without any argument. But I don’t mind. The only time a king means anythin’ to me is in a poker game.
“I expect to leave this place. There ain’t nothin’ for me here—now,” Bud’s voice was pitched lower. “But I’ll be damned if anybody is goin’ to run me out. Nobody asks me if I done this.”
Norah started to speak, but the doctor motioned her to silence. Clarey was a sour-faced old Irish doctor, very strong in his likes and dislikes, but with a heart of gold that he tried to conceal from the world.
“Conley, my lad,” he said, trying to force his voice to be gruff, “perhaps we’ve been a bit too quick, but the evidence is against ye; so heavily against ye that we’ve given no thought to your defense. Have ye any?”
Bud shook his head and grinned at the doctor.
“Nope. I don’t know a danged thing about it. What is there against me, except that I was found with the little girl?”
Louie Beaudet started forward, but the doctor blocked him again.
“Marie see you!” exploded Louie angrily.
“She seen me?” Bud scratched his head wonderingly.
“She don’t know what happened,” explained the doctor. “She says she was coming from my cabin. It was a bit after dark. A man grasped her and something struck her on the head. She has a faint memory of someone giving her a drink of strong liquor, and in an interval of half consciousness she saw the scarlet jacket of the Mounted.”
“And h’every man of de force be here at de pos’, except you!” exclaimed Louie, shaking with anger. “You are de man!”
“And we were found together this morning, eh?”
“Pierre Ravalli was bad cut in a fight,” said Joe, “and I’m come here for de doctor. When we go back we find you beside de road.”
Dr. Clarey nodded sadly. “That is true.”
“Did Ravalli die?” asked Bud.
“He’s not hurt so bad,” said Joe quickly. “I leave de doctor with you, while I go after wagon to bring you back, and I find that Pierre is much better.”
“Was Marie hurt much?” asked Bud.
“Not badly,” replied the doctor. “The blow on her head caused a bad swelling, but she is very ill today from the shock.”
For several moments no one spoke, and then the doctor said softly, “And she was to marry Joe Burgoyne next week.”
Bud turned and looked at Joe, who had come back between the counters and was leaning an elbow on a pile of colored blankets.
“And now he won’t marry her, eh?” queried Bud.
Joe’s eyes flashed to Louie Beaudet, and then he looked away. It was evident that Joe was not going to keep his part of the marriage compact. Old Louie bowed his head and turned toward the rear of the room. The disgrace of it was too much for the old man to face them now.
Joe turned away, too, as though to leave the store, but Bud caught him by the shoulder and whirled him around.
“You won’t marry her, eh?” questioned Bud. “Your honor is so damn clean that she ain’t good enough for you now. Listen to me, you breed coyote.” Bud grasped Joe by both shoulders and shoved him back against the counter. “It was no fault of hers that this thing happened. I don’t know her very well, and you know as well as I do that I never harmed her. But by God, if you don’t marry her, I will!”
Joe clawed backward for support, as Bud shook him violently.
“You heard what I said, didn’t yuh?” asked Bud.
Joe shook himself together and tried to edge away, but Bud blocked him.
“Well,” Joe shrugged his shoulders, “you might ask her; mebbe she be glad to take you—now.”
The sneering words were hardly out of Joe’s mouth before Bud smashed him full in the face. It was a punch with every ounce of Bud’s muscled body behind it, and Joe went down backward, slithering his shoulders against the counter as he fell.
For a moment it seemed that Bud was going to follow up the blow, but the doctor sprang in front of him. The blow had landed a trifle, too high for a complete knockout, but Joe’s face was a sight to behold as he got to his feet. For a moment he steadied himself and then staggered straight out of the door.
“I’m sorry you did that, Conley,” said the doctor.
“Y’betcha!” grunted Bud. “I should have used an ax.”
“It does not help matters,” sighed the doctor sadly. “It will not help Marie Beaudet, and will only make you an enemy of Joe Burgoyne.”
Norah had moved in beside old Louie and now they turned and went out through the door that led to the Beaudet living quarters. Bud looked after Norah, but she did not turn her head.
“You will leave here soon?” questioned the doctor.
“Yeah,” nodded Bud. “I reckon I’ll throw in with the bunch at Kingsburg. I’m just ornery enough to make good up there with that layout. I’m kinda curious t’ know more about the kind of hootch Magee sells. She sure makes a feller throw a peculiar fit.”
Bud turned and walked out of the door. The sun had just gone down and it would soon be dark. A big bunch of thunder clouds were piling up in the east, which presaged a storm within the hour.
Bud sauntered down to the barracks and went to his room. His old bed-roll was there, and wrapped inside it was the outfit he had worn into the country. In a few moments he had divested himself of his soiled uniform and dressed in his old cowboy garb.
His battered old sombrero felt more comfortable than the stiff-brim service hat, and he fairly luxuriated in the feel of his old blue shirt and colorless mackinaw coat. He wrote a note to Henderson and pinned it on the sleeve of his discarded uniform coat. Then he buckled on his own belt and gun, took his slicker and bed-roll under his arm and started for the stables. He was all cowboy once more.
Bud owned his own horse and no one contested his right to saddle up and ride away. It was already dark and behind him came the faint muttering of thunder; so he put on his slicker, drew his sombrero tighter on his head and mentally dared the storm to do its worst. About a mile out of town he left the road and took an old pack-trail, which led in a roundabout way to Kingsburg.