EXIT MR. P. BRADY
THE saloon was deserted, except for Galway Mike and Mr. Murphy, who were closely engaged in conversation across the bar. In another half hour the place would be rushed; the stage would be in, and the usual evening's business would be opened up.
Sam Fisher wasted no time on preliminaries. When he stepped inside the place it was with a drawn gun.
"Hands up, gents!" he said quietly. "Move quick, Mike!"
Two pairs of hands were swiftly elevated. Murphy saw in the bar mirror who had come in, and he stood petrified. Mike grimaced angrily.
"This ain't a holdup, is it?" he uttered. "Sure an' all——"
"Nope, and you aren't in it, Mike," responded Fisher. "So long as you keep out of it, you're not in it; get the idea? All right. Better iron this gent, sheriff."
Tracy appeared, to the amazement of Mike. He produced handcuffs and stepped forward. From Murphy broke a string of oaths.
"Shut up!" ordered Fisher. "One more word out of you, Pincher Brady, and I'll drill your hand—should ha' done it yesterday. You're going to the capital for robbery and murder. Guess I'll take a look at his pockets, Tracy, if you don't mind."
Gyved and backed against the bar by Tracy, the prisoner was helpless. Sam Fisher stepped forward, removed his gun, and then swiftly searched him. He took from Murphy's breast pocket a number of papers, and hurriedly glanced over them.
"Most of these have bearings on my case, Tracy," he announced. "You'll have no objections if I take charge of 'em?"
"None whatever, Fisher," said the sheriff amiably.
At this response Murphy gave a violent start. Galway Mike, behind the bar, opened his mouth and started with a drooping jaw.
"Fisher!" stammered Murphy. "Who you callin' Fisher, sheriff? This here gent——"
"Is the sheriff o' Pecos County," said Sheriff Tracy. "And he's takin' my place here for a few days, gents. Now, Brady, march along!"
"I'll run along and see yo off," said Sam Fisher languidly.
Tracy grinned. He was beginning to feel that he hadthe wiser way out of a very bad dilemma, and was fully as anxious to depart from Pahrump as Sam Fisher was to have him gone. He had nothing to gain by staying, and much to lose.
"If I'd knowed you was Sam Fisher," said Murphy ruefully as they went out, "I wouldn't have monkeyed with you no ways."
"But you didn't, and you did," returned Fisher cheerfully. "And now you're in the soup, Pincher. But cheer up; you'll meet some friends of yours before long, as soon as I get time to round 'em up and send 'em along. Where are your hosses, Tracy?"
"I got a couple in the hotel corral."
Sight of the two men with their obvious prisoner quickly assembled a small crowd, which drifted along to the hotel. On the porch Sam Fisher seated Mr. Murphy in a chair and stood guard over him while Tracy went for the horses. The crowd eyed the two men and offered many comments and questions, to which Sam Fisher only replied with a smile. News of his identity having been spread by the ex-deputies of the posse, he was at length confronted by a direct question.
"Are you Fisher o' Pecos County?" demanded one of the crowd about the porch.
"C'rect the first shot, pardner," responded Sam Fisher.
"What ye doin' here?"
"Workin'," was the laconic retort. "Any objections?"
"You wait till Buck hears about this!" came in quick response. "Him and the Runnin' Dawg will certainly take down your hide. Hey, fellers! Let's run this Pecos sheriff out o' town! We don't want him here!"
There was a general, although by no means hearty, assent to the proposal. At this moment Tracy rode up with a spare horse. He grinned at Fisher and addressed the crowd.
"Gents, I've swore in Sheriff Fisher as special deputy and am leavin' him in charge of things here. Adios! Gimme the prisoner, Sam."
Fisher led the wilted Mr. Murphy to the waiting horse and assisted him into the saddle rather energetically. He waved the pair an ironic farewell.
"Hearty travelin' to you gents! See you later, Tracy."
The two rode down the street. Sam Fisher turned to the crowd surrounding him, and all the laughing geniality had fled out of his face.
"Boys," he said gravely, "I don't blame you for not wanting strangers butting into your affairs. I'm not going to do it for long—but while I'm doing it I aim to do it thorough and proper. Miguel Cervantes was murdered this morning; shot from ambush. I'm going to get the man who did it, and I'm going to send him to the pen. That's all. Now will some gent kindly direct me to where the nearest or next preacher resides?"
Dumfounded by this information, the crowd split before him. Somebody volunteered the desired direction, and Sam Fisher strode off to arrange for the funeral at the Lazy S on the following day, also for a coroner's jury. The latter gave him some trouble, but mention of his name and present position proved sufficient to obtain what he desired. Also, tale of the murder of Cervantes and the manner thereof was a tremendous shock. Sam Fisher was careful to make no mention of the murder, and merely shook his head to all queries.
It was seven o'clock that evening when Chuck Hansom, rider for the Running Dog, came into town from the north alone. Before he had ridden a block he was hailed eagerly and brought to a halt, where a small crowd gave him the astounding information about Sam Fisher. Now Chuck was a quick-witted rascal. He readily saw the general sentiment of puzzled wonder and resentment against Fisher's intrusion into Pahrump, and inside of two minutes he took prompt advantage of it.
"Listen here!" he cried out hotly. "This here guy ain't Sam Fisher at all. He's a feller named Robinson, pretending to be Fisher. He's the guy that murdered Mig Cervantes. Me and Buck seen him do it—seen him! You boys go git your guns and we'll 'tend to him."
There was a howl as his words became understood.
Meantime, from the south, two other men came riding into town on jaded, staggering beasts. They were two Running Dog riders who had been absent from the community for some weeks; so unkempt, so dust covered and weary were they that they arrived at Mike's Place without recognition.
Sliding out of the saddle with groans of relief, they staggered into Mike's Place, which was comfortably crowded. They were too fearfully tired with hard riding to note the startled silence which fell on the crowd as they were recognized.
"Liquor, Mike!" croaked the foremost, wiping his dust-rimmed eyes. "A drink! Buck been in town to-day?"
Galway Mike set out a bottle and made a grimace, but neither man noticed it. Both seized for the bottle at once, pouring drinks with shaking hands.
"Nope," said Mike at last. "Ain't been in."
"Gosh, that feels good goin' down!" rejoined the foremost man. "Say, you got to get word out to Buck to-night; we can't ride another mile. Done killed two hosses on the way up. Tell Buck we done lost our man——"
At length the dead stillness of the place struck home. The two riders glanced at each other, then turned to survey the crowd. Despite the fact that the general sympathy was with them, nobody could keep back a grin at their perturbed wonder. Then, from the end of the bar, a voice spoke up—a drawling, whimsical voice:
"You ain't lost him, cowboy. You just follered him. Ain't it the truth?"
There, thumbs in his vest and leaning back in his chair, was Fisher. The two stared at him, petrified. Fisher sat at a table just beyond the lower end of the bar, where he was practically hidden from view of any one at the door, yet had a clear field of vision.
"Sheriff Fisher!" exclaimed the two astounded riders in unison, as though they were staring at a ghost.
There was dead silence for a moment.
Every one in the room sensed the peculiar tenseness of that moment—a moment of crisis, of taut nerves, of impending disaster, as the two riders stared at Sam Fisher and he smiled back at them. Perhaps he saw how their fingers stiffened, yet he did not move. If he did not see it, Galway Mike did. Mike's hand fell, inch by inch, below the edge of the bar on which he leaned.
These were the two men who had been keeping watch on Fisher down in Pecos City. They knew without telling that the presence of Sam Fisher here meant danger to the Running Dog. Perhaps they had been too closely in touch with Fisher down below to retain much awe of him, and, besides, they were dead tired, nerves on edge, and reckless.
As with one accord they reached for their guns.
Sam Fisher came to his feet, gun in hand. He had no intention of shooting unless so compelled, but he was watching the two riders and not Mike.
Before any shot sounded Mike's hand had completed its motion—a swift, underhand fling of deadly accuracy that sent his bung-starter down behind the bar unseen. It crashed into Fisher's forehead and sent him down like a felled steer.
Two shots came. That bung-starter saved Fisher's life, for it dropped him beneath the bullets. He lay quiet, momentarily stunned. In another five seconds the crowd had fallen upon him; he was trussed hand and food and bound in a chair.
Amid the pandemonium that ensued, with wild yells for ropes and much loud cursing, Galway Mike mounted the bar with a gun in each fist, fired into the ceiling, and evoked comparative silence.
"Byes, this gent is my meat!" he roared. "'Twas me dropped him, and it's me that'll have the say, moind that! There'll be no lynchin' party yet a while. Two of yez carry him into the storeroom behint and lave him rest a bit. We'll be talkin' this over, and maybe Buck will be in town to-night."
The mention of Buck's name carried weight. Besides, Sam Fisher had opened his eyes and was looking around. It was one thing to tie up a man—it was another thing to murder a bound and helpless prisoner. The crowd hesitated.
"Take him into the back room wid ye now," repeated Mike, flourishing his guns. The gaze of Sam Fisher dwelt upon him for a moment.
"Mike," said the prisoner calmly, "you're interfering with justice, and you know it. Inside of an hour I'll get you for this. Be ready."
That was all. The brutal features of Galway Mike reddened, then turned deathly pale under the intent gaze of Fisher. One of his hands jerked up; for an instant it looked as though he would shoot the bound man. Perhaps he would have done so but for the crowd. Instead, he motioned to the back room with his weapon, and jumped down from the bar.
Two men picked up Sam Fisher, still bound to his chair, and carried him into the storeroom behind the main room of the saloon. It was a good-sized room, stacked with barrels and cases of liquor, with a single window. A lantern, hung to a peg, illumined the place dimly. Stowing the prisoner here, the men closed the door again and joined the clamorous throng around the bar.
The two arrivals from the south were hurriedly apprised of events—the departure of Sheriff Tracy, the killing of Matt Brady and 'Lias Knute, the rumored murder of Miguel Cervantes. In the midst Steve Arnold pushed open the doors and entered. At sight of him everyone pressed forward eagerly.
"Here's Arnold of the Lazy S now! Hey, Steve, is it true Cervantes was shot to-day?"
Arnold swept the place with his eyes, nodding curtly. He saw nothing of Robinson.
"Yes," he said. "Not shot—murdered."
"Who done it?" went up a mad clamor of voices. "How? Where?"
"Ain't for me to say," returned Arnold.
His attitude would have provoked instant hostility had not two men rushed into the saloon at this moment with a loud shout.
"Hey! Chuck Hansom of the Runnin' Dawg is comin' a-smokin' with a crowd; he says this feller ain't Fisher at all; says he's a feller named Robinson; murdered Cervantes! Chuck says him an' Buck seen it done——"
Uproar filled the place, and mad confusion. For two minutes pandemonium reigned supreme. Then somebody thought of appealing to Steve Arnold to confirm the tidings, but when things quieted down Arnold proved to have vanished.
Hot upon the heels of this arrived Chuck Hansom and a yelling crowd. Standing in the entrance, Chuck showed a gun in each hand.
"Where's the feller calls himself Sam Fisher? I'm lookin' for him."
Finding no prey awaiting him, Chuck strode forward, greeted his two brethren, and found himself confronted by Galway Mike, who held a sawed-off shotgun across the bar.
"Far enough, Chuck! We got Fisher in the back room, tied up. Hold on, you byes in the doorway! L'ave us be, will ye?"
Silence was obtained, leaving the center of the floor to Mike, Chuck Hansom, and the two Running Dog riders.
"Now, me lad," pursued Mike over his shotgun, "what's this tale ye been tellin'?"
"It was Robinson murdered Cervantes, and we're aiming to 'tend to him," returned Chuck. "He ain't Sam Fisher at all, ye numskull Irisher! His name is Robinson——"
"It ain't!" spoke up one of the two returned men. "He's Sam Fisher, all right. Ain't we been follerin' him for two weeks? You're locoed, Chuck!"
This staggered Chuck for a moment, then he recovered.
"You durned fools!" he cried wrathfully. "Let him be Fisher, for all I care. Anyhow, we seen him shoot down Miguel Cervantes. Shot him in the back, I'm tellin' ye. You, Mike! Lay down that gun!"
From behind Hansom went up a low, surging growl. Every man there saw red at the tale he heard; the story of Miguel Cervantes shot in the back. For only an instant did Galway Mike hesitate; then his shotgun fell.
"You win, byes," he cried. "If he done that, go git him and have a party!"
There was a swelling roar as the crowd surged to the doorway of the storeroom.