Read CHAPTER 27 of The Rangeland Avenger, free online book, by Max Brand, on

Behind the sheriff’s apprehensive glance there had been reason.  True the door had closed upon Arizona, and the door was thick.  But the moment Arizona had passed through the door, he clapped his ear to the keyhole and listened, holding his breath, for he was certain that the moment his back was turned the shameful story of his exploits in the lumber camp eight years before would come out for the edification of Kern.  If so, it meant ruin for him.  Arizona was closed to him; all this district would be closed by the story of his early light-fingeredness.  He felt as if he were being driven to the wall.  Consequently he listened with set teeth to the early questions of the sheriff; then he breathed easier, still incredulous, when he heard Sinclair refuse to tell the tale.

Still he lingered, dreading that the truth might out, and so heard the talk turn to a new channel — Cold Feet.  Cold Feet meant many things to Sour Creek; to Arizona, the schoolteacher meant only one thing — twenty-five-hundred dollars.  And Arizona was broke.

To his hungry ear came the tidings:  “I’ll tell you what I’ll do.  I’ll give you the layout for finding Cold Feet.  Ride west out of Sour Creek and head for a flat-topped mountain.  On the shoulder just under the head you’ll find Cold Feet.  Go get him!”

To Arizona it seemed as if this last injunction were personal advice.  He waited to hear no more; if he had paused for a moment he might have learned that the hope of twenty-five hundred was an illusion and a snare.  He saw the bright vision of a small fortune placed in his hands as the result of a single gunplay.  He had seen the schoolteacher.  He knew by instinct that there was no fighting quality in Jig.  And the moment he heard the location it was as good as cash in his pocket, he was sure.

There was only one difficulty.  He must beat out the sheriff.  To that end he hurried to the stable behind the hotel, broke all records for speed in getting the saddle on his roan mare, and then jogged her quietly out of town so as to rouse no suspicions.  But hardly was he past the outskirts, hardly crediting his good luck that the sheriff himself was not yet on the way, than he touched the flanks with his spurs and sent the mare flying west.

In the west the moon was dropping behind the upper ranges, as he rode through the foothills; when he began to climb the side of the mountain, the dawn began to grow.  So much the better for Arizona.  But, knowing that he had only Cold Feet to deal with, he did not adopt all the caution of Sandersen on the same trail.  Instead he cut boldly straight for the shoulder of the mountain, knowing what he would find there on his arrival.  In the nearest grove he left his horse and then walked swiftly up to the level.  There the first thing that caught his eyes was the form wrapped in the blanket.  But the next thing he saw was the pale glimmer of the dawn on the barrel of a revolver.  He reached for his own gun, only to see, over the rock above him, the grinning face of Sandersen arise.

“Too late, Arizona,” called the tall man.  “Too late for one job, partner, but just in time for the next!”

Arizona cursed softly, steadily, through snarling lips.

“What job?”

“Sinclair!  He’s gone, but he’ll be back any minute.  And it’ll need us both to down him, Arizona.  We’ll split on Sinclair’s reward.”

Disgust and wrath consumed Arizona.  Without other answer he strode to the prostrate form, slashed the rope and tore the handkerchief from between the teeth of Cold Feet.  The schoolteacher sat up, gasping for breath, purple of face.

“Leave him be!” cried Sandersen, his voice shrill with anger.  “Leave him be!  He’s the bait, Arizona, and we’re the trap that’ll catch Sinclair.”

But Arizona cursed again bitterly.  “Leave that bait lie till the sun burns it up.  You’ll never catch Sinclair with it.”

“How come?”

From around the rock Sandersen appeared and walked down to the fat man.

“Because Sinclair’s already caught.”

If he had expected the tall man to groan with disappointment, there was a surprise in store for him.  Sandersen exclaimed shrilly for joy.

“Sinclair took!  Took dead, then!”

“Dead?  Why?”

“You don’t mean he was taken alive?”

“Yes, I sure do!  And I done the figuring that led up to him being caught.”

The slender form of Jig rose before them, trembling.

“It isn’t true!  It isn’t true!  There aren’t enough of you in Sour Creek to take Riley Sinclair!”

“Ain’t it true?” asked Arizona.  “All right, son, you’ll meet him pronto in the Sour Creek jail, unless the boys finish their party of the other day and string you up before you get inside the jail.”

This brought a peculiar, low-pitched moan from Cold Feet.

“Cheer up,” said Sandersen.  “You ain’t swinging yet awhile.”

“But he’s hurt!  If he’s alive, he’s terribly wounded?”

Arizona beat down the appealing hand with a brutal gesture.

“No, he ain’t particular hurt.  Just his neck squashed a bit where the sheriff throttled him.  He didn’t fight enough to get hurt, curse him!”

Frowning, Sandersen shook his head.  “He’s a fighting man, Arizona, if they ever was one.”

It seemed that everything infuriated the fat man.

“What d’you know about it, Lanky?” he demanded of Sandersen.  “Didn’t I run the affair?  Wasn’t it me that planted the whole trap?  Wasn’t it me that knowed he’d come into town for you or Cartwright?”

“Cartwright!” gasped Jig.

“Sure!  We nailed him in Cartwright’s room, just the way I said we would.  And they laughed at me, the fools!”

He might have gathered singular inferences from the lowered head of Jig and the soft murmur:  “I might have known — I might have known he’d try for me.”

“And I might have had the pleasure of drilling him clean,” said Arizona, harking back to it with savage pleasure, “but I shot out the light.  I wanted him to die slow, and before the end I wanted to pry his eyes open and make him see my face and know that it was me that done for him!  That was what I wanted.  But he turned yaller and wouldn’t fight.”

“He wouldn’t kill,” said Jig coldly.  “But for courage — I laugh at you, Arizona!”

“Easy,” scowled the cowpuncher.  “Easy, Jig.  You ain’t behind the bars yet.  You’re in reach of my fist, and I’d think nothing of busting you in the face.  Shut up till I talk to you.”

The misty eyes of Sandersen brightened a little and grew hard.  There was a great deal of fighting spirit in the man, and his easy victory of that morning had roused him to a battling pitch.

“Looks to me like you ain’t running this here party, Arizona,” he said dryly.  “If there are any directions to give Cold Feet, I’ll give ’em.  It was me that took him!”

No direct answer could Arizona find to this true statement, and, as always when a man is at a loss for words, his temper rose, and his fists clenched.  For the first time he looked at Sandersen with an eye of savage calculation.  He had come to hope of a tidy little fortune.  He had found it snatched out of his hand, and, as he measured Sandersen, his heart rose.  Twenty-five-hundred dollars would fairly well equip him in life.  The anger faded out of his eyes, and in its place came the cold gleam of the man who thinks and calculates.  All at once he began to smile, a mirthless smile that was of the lips only.

“Maybe you’re right, Sandersen, but I’m thinking you’d have to prove that you took Cold Feet.’

“Prove it?”

“Sure!  The boys wouldn’t be apt to believe that sleepy Sandersen woke up and took Cold Feet alive.”

Instantly the gorge of Sandersen rose, and he began to see red.

“Are you out to find trouble, Fatty?”

The adjective found no comfortable lodging place in the mind of Arizona.

“Me?  Sure I ain’t.  I’m just stating facts the way I know ’em.”

“Well, the facts you know ain’t worth a damn.”


It was growing clearer and clearer to the fat man that between him and twenty-five-hundred dollars there stood only the unamiable figure of the long, lean cowpuncher.  He steadied his eye till a fixed glitter came in it.  He hated lean men by instinct and distrusted them.

“Sure they ain’t.  How you going to get around the fact that I did take Cold Feet?”

“Well, Sandersen, you see that they’s twenty-five-hundred dollars hanging on the head of this Cold Feet?”

“Certainly!  And I see ten ways of spending just that amount.”

“So do I,” said Arizona.

“You do?”

“Partner, you’ve heard me talk!”

“Arizona, you’re talking mighty queer.  What d’ye mean?”

“Now, suppose it was me that brought in Cold Feet, who’d get the money?”

“Why, you that brought him in?”

“Yep, me.  And suppose I brought him in with two murders charged to him instead of one.”

“I don’t foller you.  What’s the second murder, Fatty?”


Sandersen blinked and gave back a little.  Plainly he was beginning to fear that the reason of Arizona was unbalanced.

He shook his head.

“I’ll show you how it’ll be charged to Cold Feet,” said the fat man.

Taking the cartridge belt of Jig he shook the revolver out of the holster and pumped a shot into the ground.  The sharp crack of the explosion roused no echo for a perceptible space.  Then it struck back at them from a solid wall of rock, almost as loud as it had been in fact.  Off among the hills the echo was repeated to a faint whisper.  Arizona dropped the revolver carelessly on the ground.

“Fatty, you’ve gone nutty,” said Sandersen.

“I’ll tell you a yarn,” said Arizona.

Sandersen looked past him to the east.  The light was growing rapidly about the mountains.  In another moment or so that sunrise which he had been looking forward to with such solemn dread, would occur.  He was safe, of course, and still that sense of impending danger would not leave him.  He noted Jig, erect, very pale, watching them with intense and frightened interest.

“Here’s the story,” went on the fat man.  “I come out of Sour Creek hunting for Cold Feet.  I came straight to this here mountain.  Halfway up the side I hear a shot.  I hurry along and soft-foot on to this shoulder.  I see Cold Feet standing, over the dead body of Sandersen.  Then I stick up Cold Feet and take him back to Sour Creek and get the reward.  Won’t that be two murders on his head?”

The thin Swede rubbed his chin.  “For a grown man, Fatty, you’re doing a lot of supposing.”

“I’m going to turn it into fact,” said Arizona.


“With a chunk of lead!  Pull your gun, you lanky fool!”

It seemed to Jig, watching with terrible interest, that Sandersen stared not at Arizona, as he went for his gun, but beyond the stubby cowpuncher — far behind and into the east, where the dawn was growing brighter, losing its color, as sunrises do, just before the rising of the sun.  His long arm jerked back, the revolver whipped into his hand, and he stiffened his forearm for the shot.

All that Jig saw, with eyes sharpened, so that each movement seemed to be taking whole seconds, was a sneering Arizona, waiting till the last second.  When he moved, however, it was with an almost leisurely flip of the wrist.  The heavy Colt was conjured into his hand.  With graceful ease the big weapon slipped out and exploded before Sandersen’s forefinger had curled around the trigger.

Out of the hand of the Swede slipped the gun and clanged unheeded on the ground at his feet.  She saw a patch of red spring up on his breast, while he lurched forward with long, stiff strides, threw up his hands to the east, and pitched on his face.  She turned from the dead thing at her feet.

The white rim of the sun had just slid over the top of a mountain.