Friday, 13 June 2008

The Curing of Linky McShane

The Curing of Linky McShane

By Laurie York Erskine

Illustrated by Frank E. Schoonover

From American Boy magazine January 1935. Digital capture June 2008 by Doug Frizzle

THEY came for Linky McShane at night. He saw them enter the door of the poolroom at Caley's Corners and he turned white, deep down inside himself. With hopeless, fear-stricken eyes he gazed about the room. He saw Tom Sacpoole, who was constable over at Caleyville, but Tom stared at the pool table. He wasn't going to interfere.

Linky knew that. Churt Somers and Buck Foster, who slipped in through the poolroom door as quietly as if the room were empty, were Alec Lestock's men; and Alec Lestock was wanted by the authorities, dead or alive. Tom Sacpoole and every man in the room knew that Lestock was hiding out on the Somers ranch, in the red shale country, and because of that not one of them looked up. They didn't want to be seen. They didn't dare to be seen. Lestock killed witnesses. . . . There wasn't a soul in the world, Linky McShane felt, who could or would help him now.

"Come along, Linky," murmured Churt Somers, quietly. "He wants yuh."

"I can't!" pleaded Linky. "I'm sick. Ask anybody!"

"Better be sick than dead," mourned Churt. "He says come."

Coughing, twitching, his soul sick with fear, Linky climbed into the flivver that waited outside and went with them. Out at Somers' ranch, in a colorless, ramshackle house, Linky repeated his plea to Alec Lestock.

"Leave me out," he whined. "I can't be no good to yuh. I'm sick!"

Lestock had a heavy, brutish face that was browned like sandstone. His eyes were like opals, murky-bright, hard, without any light in them. Under the mellow ring of the lamplight he huddled forward on the dirty oilcloth that covered a table top and stared at Linky with inhuman apathy.

"That's why I'm usin' you," he said. "I got a job that needs a kid who looks sick."

"But you don't get me. . . ." Linky glanced furtively around the unfeeling circle of faces. "I don't wanta be mixed up in it any more! I wanta go straight!"

An ominous silence followed, while Linky's soul shrank within him.

"You shoulda decided that before," rasped the slow voice of Lestock. "When we was riding round the country making big hauls, you was willing to be with us."

"1 wasn't! I didn't!" It was a wail of reckless despair. "Was it my fault I was in the poolroom at Glenrock? Was it my fault you laid out the Glenrock raid while I was workin' there?"

"You came in." Lestock's voice was queerly insistent.

"Shore I came in. I had to. You knew I was wise, and you made me play lookout. I want to go straight, but I won't squeal. I won't." Linky was frankly pleading, his body quivering with the tension of his wretched, overwrought spirit.

Lestock stared at him stonily. "It wouldn't be good for you to back out now." The man moved his arms and with one thick thumb rubbed a greasy trail across the oilcloth. He stared up at Linky. "You gotta decide," he said, "or else. ..." With a hard pressure on the cloth, he brought the thumb back toward him. "Understand?"

Rubbed out! Linky understood with ghastly clearness. Orphan of a mining town slum, his small, hard body had been exploited by the low, gambling element of the place. They had made him a jockey; they had made him a tenth-rate, lightweight boxer. After four years of reckless living, Linky, at the age of nineteen, had been dropped, his physique wrecked, his spirit broken, to pick up a living any way he could.

Drifting into the job of helper in a poolroom where Lestock's gang had met to plan the raiding of the bank at Glenrock, he had been forced into helping them because he innocently knew too much and lacked the courage to defy them. That had made him a member of the gang—and now Lestock was asking him to decide! One despairing look about that circle of relentless faces told him what his decision would have to be.

"Tell me what I'm to do," he said hopelessly.

For a long time Lestock stared at him steadily. He was deciding whether the wrecked and broken youngster was weak and vicious enough to be a safe and useful tool.

"You got sense," he croaked finally. "Now I'll tell you what you gotta do." For a moment he continued to stare; then: "When they rounded up Deaf Eddie and Byrd Wineman and the rest, you thought it was out of the sheriff's office down at Garrison, didn't yuh? Well, it wasn't. It was from over the border." A murderous bitterness glittered behind the pallor of his eyes. "The Mounted Police," he said, "found out too much."

"Yeah?" quavered Linky.

"They got a man up there named Renfrew," continued Lestock. "He found out a lot more than's healthy, and he tips off Hannigan down at Garrison. We gotta get this Renfrew out of the way, see? He's still diggin' up stuff that looks bad for us." A sudden flush suffused Lestock's face, like a red mask of fury. "We fill his hide full of lead, see?" he gasped, as if he were short of breath. "We rub him out!" His face became cold again, like sandstone. "And we gotta do it right, without leaving tracks."

Linky's face turned an unhealthy green color. His eyes popped.

"But I can't do nothing like that!" he wailed. "I ain't no trigger man!"

Lestock sneered contemptuously. "All you got to do," he said, "is give us the layout. This Renfrew is living at a ranch with some people named Conners, near a town called Paynter, off the railroad south of McLeod. You go there by rail, see, all the way from Winnipeg. You're a sick kid, boardin' out for your health, see? Then you get the dope on this Renfrew, and you tip us off on how we get to him without anybody around, and how we get away again, see? The roads are important; the back roads, down to the border."

Linky stared back at him like a rabbit hypnotized. They would murder this Renfrew as they'd committed a dozen murders before, and he was chosen to fix it. He was doomed! He knew it. There was no escape from the incarnation of black wickedness that was embodied in the gross, squat form of Alex Lestock.

"Well?" rasped the bandit.

"Sure, chief," whined Linky McShane. "I got you. I unnerstand." A gleam of hope entered his mind. "But how about Hannigan? He's workin' against yuh from this end, ain't he?"

"He's taken care of," said Lestock. "Buck Foster's doin' the same for Hannigan as you're doin' up there for this Renfrew."

Renfrew drove the buckboard and Gordon Conners sat beside him. The sun beat furiously down upon the wide grasslands of the hill country, sending up waves of heat that pressed against the skin, that suffocated the traveler and tortured him. In that blazing heat Renfrew and Gordon Conners had driven seventeen miles from McLeod, and had twelve miles still to go. Since they wasted no energy in talking, Gordon's exclamation broke a long silence.

"There's your hobo!" he cried suddenly.

Renfrew peered through the heat waves and saw a slight figure lying prostrate in the narrow band of shadow behind a long rock.

"Poor kid," he said, and guided the buckboard out of the wagon track toward the wayfarer's sorry shelter.

Eight miles back they had met an irritated citizen of McLeod changing the tire of a flivver. He had been cheated, he declared. A youth, a gutter rat from the East, had hired him to drive to Paynter for five dollars. When they were more than halfway there, the passenger had admitted to having just 78 cents. He had thereupon dropped the tramp in the middle of the sun-beaten hill country, and left him to walk. Now the motorist was penitent, realizing that the heat and exhaustion could kill the tenderfoot. Would Renfrew and Gordon keep an eye open for him?

They would and they did. And here was the stranded culprit, prostrate under the scant shadow of the rock.

Bending over him, Renfrew and Gordon looked down upon a wizened, stunted youth, clad cheaply in a tan suit of ornate design, a felt hat, and down-at-heel shoes. His necktie shrieked aloud, and his sweat-sodden shirt was imitation silk. He was unconscious as Renfrew felt his pulse.

"Too much heat, I guess," he said. He gazed on the unwholesome pallor of the boy's face, the dark rings under the eyes. "Not in condition for hiking," he added dryly.

At that point Linky McShane opened his eyes and looked into the faces above him. Something in the keen, studying glance of Renfrew alarmed him. Abruptly he sat up.

"All right," said Renfrew, reassuringly. "We're friends."

Linky stared at him. In Renfrew he recognized instantly a type of man he had always feared, a type with whom he had never been on speaking terms—a man who was courageous and incorruptible. No such man had ever called Linky McShane his friend.

"It's the heat," he faltered, and they helped him to his feet. Again he was gazing into the eyes of the man who had called him a friend. "You won't— let me down?" he muttered, and taking three steps forward, he collapsed in a heap.

"We'd better take him home with us," said Renfrew thoughtfully. "Your mother will bring him around."

Gordon looked worried. He was thinking of the business that had taken them to McLeod.

"What's the matter?" asked Renfrew.

"You take big chances," said Gordon.

"How's that?" Renfrew grinned at him.

"Well, here you're staying out at the ranch as a guest, while you're really rounding up Lestock's connections in Canada. We've just been down to McLeod turning over evidence against the Gerdells that shows they're a part of the Lestock gang, and yesterday the Lestock gang shot down Sheriff Hannigan, who worked with you on the American side—killed him."

"What's that got to do with this?" asked Renfrew softly.

Gordon was silent. He was young, and he didn't want to appear too easily excited, but his fear was for Renfrew.

"This kid is out of the gutter!" he blurted. "What's he doing here? Why's he beating his way out to Paynter?"

"You tell me," urged Renfrew.

"Well, he's the kind of tool Lestock would use if he wanted to spy on a guy like you, that's all."

"Even if he were," smiled Renfrew, "wouldn't it be logical to keep him around where we can see what he's doing? Take hold of his legs."

Linky McShane awoke twelve hours later in a soft bed, swathed with clean sheets, in a shuttered room that was cool despite the glare of sunlight outside.

"Hey!" he cried. No sound answered him. It made him feel scared—as if they'd left him alone in a hospital to die. "Hey!" he cried again, and then, more sharply, "Hey! I'm sick! Don't I get no service? Hey, somebody. ..." His voice rose to a wail.

The door opened and a woman entered. She was tall and good looking, bearing with her a bright atmosphere of good nature.

"Hey, where am I, anyways?" Linky demanded petulantly. "Where's my clo'es?" He recalled his position—and Lestock! He had gambled away the funds Lestock had given him. If this were a public hospital they'd send him back to Butte, Montana, which he was pretending was his home. What would Lestock do then? Linky knew, and it filled his veins with fear. He had to get out of here!

"That's all right," soothed Mrs. Conners. "We're keeping your clothes for you. You just rest, and don't worry."

"But I gotta have 'em!" yelled Linky. "I gotta get out of this dump! You ain't got no right to keep me here. I gotta go!"

The lips of Gordon's mother tightened. She frowned.

"Lie still," she said. "My son Gordon brought you here when he found you by the trail, prostrated by the heat. And Mr. Renfrew wants you to rest until you're well again. You won't want to leave."

At the sound of the name Renfrew, Linky perked up. This was a break! He could play sick in the house of the man he had to watch!

"All right, lady," he whined. "I'll stay."

That was the beginning of long days of luxury for Linky McShane—and of bewildered indignation on the part of the countryside. The countryside soon agreed that Mrs. Conners' invalid was a cross between a snake and a skunk. His abusive, spiteful tongue was constantly raised against every service rendered him. The edict that he was not to smoke cigarettes or drink coffee, but must drink quantities of milk, he greeted as a three-way conspiracy against his life and well-being. The cleanliness enforced by his hostess he regarded as a studied insult. Moreover, realizing that Mrs. Conners was inclined to humor him as an invalid, he developed an insolence in his bearing toward her that recklessly invited disaster.

The disaster befell him when Renfrew, Gordon Conners, and Hunter, his husky older brother, were engaged in breaking horses out at the Rock Creek corrals in the Paint River Valley. The horse breaking kept them out at the creek for weeks at a time, so that they had not seen Linky since the day they had brought him home. It was about two weeks after that day when Grant Furman, the ranch foreman, reported that he had heard the invalid use language to Mrs. Conners that he wouldn't let a cowboy use in a bunk house.

"Let's ride to town," said Hunter Conners, grimly.

The three of them arrived at Paynter in midmorning and found Linky lounging on the bed in his shirt sleeves in a room tainted with stale cigarette smoke. The rest and careful attention he had received showed in the fullness of his face, the clearness of his complexion, and a general air of jauntiness that he hadn't possessed before.

"Hello, cowboy!" said Hunter Gordon breezily. "How about looking around for new lodgings?"

"Yeh?" sneered Linky, insolent in the assurance of his illness.

"Yeh!" explained Hunter cheerfully. "Roll up your tarp, and ride over to some other outfit."

Linky appeared to consider this. "Who's goin' to make me?" he jeered.

"I'll take a chance," said Gordon. He stepped forward and snatched for Linky's right wrist. But Linky moved first. As though on tempered springs he bounded from the bed and the arm that Gordon all but grasped lashed out with a lightning blow that caught Gordon squarely on the chin. Gordon reeled backward against the steadying arm of Renfrew, who at that moment entered the room.

"Gosh!" gasped Gordon. "He's got a kick like a mule!"

For an instant Linky was gazing once more into the gray eyes of the officer. Then Mrs. Conners stood, white-faced, in the doorway.

"We can't leave him here, Mother!" cried Gordon.

"Do what Mr. Renfrew thinks best," she said quietly. "But remember this: the poor boy needs curing, not punishing." She walked from the room, leaving Linky and the two brothers to stare expectantly at Renfrew.

"You—you—" stammered Linky miserably, "you're this guy Renfrew?"

Renfrew appeared to ignore him.

"Your mother's right," he said crisply to Gordon. "He needs curing. Get him some riding boots."

"Hey!" protested Linky, instantly on the defensive. "I'm sick! I can't ride no horse! You can't make me!"

"Put 'em on," said Renfrew, as Gordon produced a pair of high-heeled riding boots. "You're coming with us."

Again Linky was aware of Renfrew's even, studying gaze. He pulled on the boots. Ten minutes later he stood sullenly beside a pony they had saddled for him, profanely refusing to mount.

"You're not sick! You're not even tired!" snapped the voice of Renfrew. "Get up and ride that horse!"

For a long instant this time the beady, shifty eyes of Linky McShane looked into the steady eyes of the police officer. Then, feeling caught, Linky leaped like a monkey into the saddle and went thundering off down the dirt trail. They rode hard after him, but were in sight of the Rock Creek corrals before they caught him.

Five weeks later, four horsemen rode in from the range and clattered down the main street of Paynter. One, thickset, grizzled, was Grant Furman, foreman and top rider of the Conners outfit. Another, erect in the saddle, riding with a trim, military bearing, was Douglas Renfrew, special officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The third was Gordon Conners, his blond slightness masking a wiry strength. Beside him rode a sun-browned, keen-eyed youth who controlled a dancing pony with the easy, steady grace of an athlete: this was Linky McShane.

The curing of Linky McShane had been the wonder of the range. From the moment he had first ridden into the corrals at Rock Creek and fallen in a blasphemous heap from the saddle of a spent pony, the men had watched his progress with a scepticism that had changed daily toward astonishment. It had started off in battle, when the cook had tried to put Linky to bed as an invalid. Spitefully, vindictively, Linky seemed determined to be an invalid no longer. He fought the cook, and as reinforcements rushed to the cook's assistance, he fought them all. He had a punch that could lift an unsuspecting cowboy from the floor. It was Renfrew who quieted him with a command that Linky appeared to respect as he respected nothing else.

"Leave him alone," said Renfrew. "He's game. He'll make a good rider."

Linky stared at him with the trusting gaze of a child in the presence of a wise, all-powerful adult.

After that he rode with the cowboys, making life miserable for them with his bitter, insulting tongue and petulant selfishness, until, losing patience, they hazed him. For a week Linky mounted no horse without the fear of being thrown. He found snakes, toads, and cockleburs in his bed. His temper grew venomous, but his body thrived. He took it all until one night he arose from a bed full of black-snakes and confronted a room full of tormentors. With one blow he knocked out the nearest of them and snatched from its holster a revolver that hung near-by. To the consternation of the hazers, he turned with the gun in his hand and darted from the bunk house.

A few seconds later, Renfrew, who shared a cabin with Hunter Conners, and who was working alone by lamplight at his table, became abruptly aware of a snarling maniac who shoved a gun into his middle and raved.

"You turned me over to 'em!" cried Linky McShane. "You pretended you was a friend and turned me over. You're goin' to take it now!"

"Put down the gun!" Renfrew seemed completely oblivious of the gun, confident that neither by accident nor design would it be fired. "I'm glad you came," he said.

Linky dropped the muzzle of the gun slowly toward the floor. His breath came in gasps, as though he were panting.

"Sit down," said Renfrew. He himself sat again at the table. "I want to tell you something I think you ought to know."

"Yeah?" breathed Linky. He felt bewildered and confused. He sank slowly into a chair.

Renfrew turned to the cowboys who crowded the doorway.

"McShane will stay here tonight," he said, and waited until the cowboys had gone beyond earshot.

"A young man named Buck Foster," he said very thoughtfully, "was shot and killed down in Garrison yesterday. They believe he was killed by the Lestock gang. They believe it had some connection with the death of Sheriff Hannigan, whom the gang killed three weeks ago."

"Yeah?" Linky's eyes slowly widened. No longer given to twitching, his sun-browned face was blank of all expression. In his wide eyes there was a queer glitter, but he made no further comment.

Renfrew bade him good night, and the matter was not referred to again.

After that night the hazing of Linky McShane stopped dead. As though transformed by the experience, Linky became a quiet, respectful, and daringly useful cow hand. In only one respect did he differ widely from the rest in his behavior: he became a walking shadow of Renfrew. Whenever he could, without comment, accompany Renfrew, he was there, riding silently beside him.

Renfrew seemed to develop a trust and confidence in this new Linky that Gordon Conners regarded with troubled fear. He knew the difficulties and the constant peril that lurked in the work Renfrew was doing under cover of his vacation on the ranch. In fact Gordon suspected Linky's devotion was the devotion of a spy. While Linky watched Renfrew, Gordon watched Linky.

Now, as they rode into Main Street, he noticed an incident that neither Renfrew nor Furman seemed to observe. A young man with a pale, wedge-shaped face was standing outside the entrance to the Maple Leaf, the town's disreputable hotel. Gordon, spotting the stranger and casually attracted by the queer, cheaply dandified appearance of his dress, was surprised to see him signal, almost imperceptibly, with a furtive nod of his head, to someone beyond Gordon's shoulder. Gordon turned in time to catch in Linky's eye an unmistakable glance of recognition.

At the police barracks at the end of the street, Renfrew drew rein and dismounted. With his three companions he strode into the barracks and answered the greetings of Corporal Whalen.

"We're ready for the round-up," he said.

Vainly Gordon sought to catch Renfrew's eye. Linky McShane was close to Renfrew's elbow, listening alertly.

"Wire McLeod to have four men join me out at Rock Creek on Monday," said Renfrew. "I'll have warrants for twelve men ready!"

"Any dope on Lestock, sir?"

Gordon saw Linky stiffen.

"All we need," said Renfrew. "I'm sending evidence to the States that will show them where to look for him. But I'm holding it back till we've made our arrests up here. Our prisoners will probably have something to add to it."

"Four men at Rock Creek Monday," repeated Whalen, writing.

Leaving the barracks they walked to their horses. Linky alone hung back.

"I'll join you later, chief," he said.

"I got things to see to in town." With Renfrew's assent he hurried away down the street.

"Do you know where he's going?" asked Gordon grimly.

"To get a hair cut, I hope," grinned Renfrew.

"He's going to the Maple Leaf to meet up with a stranger who looks as if he'd just got out of jail."

Renfrew regarded Gordon for a moment gravely.

"You think Linky's playing the spy?" he asked.

"I know it!" cried Gordon. "Can't you see how he's been worming his way into your confidence? Can't you see how much he's learned?"

Smiling, Renfrew shook his head.

"He's cured," said Renfrew.

Gordon was aghast at Renfrew's unsuspected gullibility.

"You can cure a snake's body," he cried, "but you can't make him anything but a snake!"

In the meantime Linky McShane was face to face with Alec Lestock's representative, Fingers Alfred.

"You didn't come a second too quick," Linky was saying. "You tell Alec that. He's got to act quick, like my letter said. That guy I was ridin' with— the tall, hard guy—is this Renfrew. You see how close I been to him. Tell Alec that. I been right next to him for more'n a month. He's been watch-in' the mails, see? He's been watchin' the roads, and the guys up here that Alec's been teamin' with. And, say, has he got 'em cold!" He continued with a recital of many accomplishments by Renfrew in the way of gathering evidence.

"Alec wants to know how come you didn't write more?" said Fingers coldly. His shifty eyes flitted over Linky.

"Like I said in my last letter," said Linky, "this Renfrew sees everything that goes out in the mails. I gotta be careful. He's got the goods on Alec, though, and next Monday he rounds up the mob on this side of the border. You tell Alec to act this Sunday like I'm tellin' you, or take a long trip some-wheres, 'cause if they don't get this Renfrew it's curtains for the whole mob, see? You'd best get the night rattler out of McLeod; then you can see Alec by tomorrow night. That'll give him two days to make it."

"Sunday night, huh?"

"That's right. Every Saturday Renfrew rides down to Paynter to go to church with the Conners family. Sunday night, about eight o'clock, he rides back to the Rock Creek outfit. He's got every road to the border watched, but if Alec follows this map I'm givin' yuh, an' crosses the border over the open country where I've marked it, he'll find it as good drivin' as any road. Then let him pick up the wagon trail where I marked it on this side of the border and it'll bring him right onto the Rock Creek trail. All he's gotta do is park there until this Renfrew comes ridin' out, then flash on his lights and let him have it. He can't miss him if he floods the road with his lights and lets go with the chopper at the same time. Tell him to get away with any stuff Renfrew's carryin', 'cause he's packin' the warrants and a lot of dope on Alec, see?"

Fingers studied the map.

"Sunday night," he muttered. "Hey?"

"Yeah, Sunday night. Now you better breeze an' get the train. Tell Alec how close I been, see?"

It seemed that no one except Gordon Conners, who lurked in the drug store opposite the hotel, saw Linky exit from the Maple Leaf, followed later by Fingers Alfred. Gordon waited until Alfred had haggled with two taxi drivers for a ride to McLeod, and then interviewed the rejected driver and found out what he wanted. That night, at Rock Creek, he saw Renfrew.

"The little crook he met with hopped a train for the border," he said. "It looks like you trusted McShane too far."

"I don't think so," said Renfrew slowly, but he noticed with some uneasiness that Linky avoided him.

On Saturday evening he failed for the first time in weeks to join Renfrew and the Conners brothers in their weekend ride to Paynter, but Sunday morning found Linky surprisingly in church, and late in the afternoon he came to the Conners home for Sunday evening supper, ignoring the coldness of the Conners men.

"Thought you were playing hooky," said Renfrew. "How'd you get into town?"

"I came in on the truck with the boys," grinned Linky. "I aim to ride that little pinto pony out to the creek; the one that's been laid up in the barn here with a strained shoulder."

"The truck didn't come in this morning, did it?" asked Gordon.

"No. They come in last night and took out the supplies."

A silence fell. Gordon and Hunter stared at Linky expectantly.

"I spent the night in town," muttered Linky grudgingly.

"At the Maple Leaf!" Gordon's voice rose accusingly. "Where they were holding mail for you!"

Linky glared at him for a moment, then looked appealingly at Renfrew. Renfrew gazed gravely back. Linky rose suddenly from his chair.

"Yeah?" he cried. "Well, get a load of this! The mail wasn't for me, because the Mounted Police are watching the mails too close. There was a letter addressed to Joe Gurrit, who runs the Maple Leaf, and it was in code, see? That only me can understand. So stick that in your muzzle loaders and fire away. I'm fading now, and you guys can sit around and dope out what it's all about!"

He turned and strode from the room. In another instant they heard the outer door slam behind him.

"Let him go," said Renfrew, as the two brothers stepped forward.

"But he's double-crossing us!" cried Gordon. "He'll give the whole game away. The men you want will be over the border by morning!"

"Sit down," said Renfrew. "We've got to wait for a phone call."

He resumed his seat at the table, meeting their insistent queries and excited protests with a preoccupied serenity. More than an hour later the phone rang. Gordon answered it.

"It's George Curran," he reported, mystified. "He says to tell you, Renfrew, that McShane passed the foot of his lane ten minutes ago, riding out on the Rock Creek trail."

Renfrew smiled. He seemed extraordinarily relieved.

"That's good," he said. "Let's ride."

"What's it all about, Doug?" demanded Hunter Conners.

"I don't know," said Renfrew. "Linky's been in touch with Alec Lestock. Why, I can't tell you, but I believe the kid's straight, and I don't want him to get in a jam; so I've been having all his lines of communication watched. All I know now is that he's riding out to Rock Creek. I think he's planning to meet somebody."

He went upstairs and came down buckling on a holstered revolver and a cartridge belt. Without words the brothers followed suit. In half an hour they were cantering into the velvet blackness of the grassy hill country. At a dirt crossroad Renfrew drew rein.

"If he doesn't want company," he said, "he'll watch his rear. We can follow the Black Snake Coulee and cut in ahead of him."

He led the way at a hard gallop and they followed, exhilarated by the cool night and the promise of adventure.

From a hilltop they looked down an hour later upon a velvet darkness that they knew was threaded by the winding, rutted passage of the Rock Creek trail. They dismounted and walked their horses gingerly along the rim of the steep hill, seeking cautiously for the footpath to the depths. Renfrew, who was leading, stopped short.

"Listen!" he whispered.

Below and from the eastward came the rhythmic padding of hooves. A horseman was riding out the Rock Creek Trail. Suddenly, with the swift, staccato action of violent movement, melodrama flamed below them.

From a point off the trail the twin headlights of a motor car were flashed on, trained up the Rock Creek Trail, catching the figure of a lone rider full in a stream of light. Instantly the rider whisked his pony aside into the blackness of night, just as a rattling volley of gunfire burst forth from behind the headlights. Almost simultaneously a close-grouped volley blazed forth from several points beneath the precipice, and the headlights, shattered, vanished from the night.

Darkness. Silence.

Then a voice spoke, ringing clearly in the still air from some point of concealment startlingly close to where the car seemed to be.

"Drop your guns, Lestock!" rang the voice. "Your engine's busted and you're covered all around. Drop your guns and stick up your hands!"

Before the voice ceased speaking guns were rapping out in answer.

"Not for you, Renfrew!" bawled the voice of Alec Lestock. "There ain't enough cops in Canada to take Al Lestock alive!"

"There ain't no cop trying to," sang out the first voice, from a surprisingly different position. "It's me! Linky McShane!"

"You rat!" screamed Lestock. Again the din of shooting stabbed the silence. Then a pause. From a new position the voice of Linky McShane laughed.

"Last call!" sang Linky. "Drop your guns!"

The guns of the gangsters in the motor car clattered defiance.

"Okay!" yelled Linky. And now headlights were flashed on from another source, and in the stream of light the crippled car, with the assassins huddled about it, was mercilessly revealed. From all sides the firing opened—bullets that pecked with horrible insistence at the dirt, just inside the circle of the spotlight.

"You still got a chance!" cried Linky. "We ain't murderers!"

Bellowing curses, the outlaws blazed uselessly at jets of fire, at the relentless searchlights. Unceasingly, with terrible regularity, the pecking bullets crept closer into the lighted area, reaching toward the gangsters' feet.

"Stop it!" shrieked Lestock suddenly. "Hold your fire! You got us! Don't make it a massacre!" He hurled his gun into the light.

"Line up in the light!" cried a new voice in answer. It was the voice of Renfrew, who rode in from the foot of the cliff as Alec Lestock and three companions stepped forward, hands aloft, into the lights of the Conners ranch truck.

"You take 'em, Linky!" cried Renfrew; and Linky McShane stepped forward with three cowboys of the outfit to accept the bandits' surrender. He stood in front of Lestock, his eyes dancing.

"You rat-faced stool pigeon!" snarled Lestock.

But Linky laughed. "I told you I was through!" he cried. "And you wouldn't believe me. You thought you had me scared enough to help you rub out the whitest man on earth—and then you'd a'put me out of the picture like you did Buck Foster. But I couldn't stay scared, see? When a guy rides with a man like Renfrew, he can't stay scared of you. You shoulda hit me when I gave you the chance."

Renfrew put one hand on Linky's shoulder.

"You started this alone," he said; "so you'd better see it through. Put your prisoners in the truck, and I'll ride into town with you."

"Thanks, Chief," Linky beamed his gratitude. "I got the boys to help me because I wanted to do it alone, see? I wanted to show you I was cured like you said. Get me?"

"I get you," said Renfrew. By the way he said it, by the almost imperceptible glance that passed between them, Linky felt vastly rewarded.

The End

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.