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ANTHONY M. RUD

THE TWO OF US

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First published in Short Stories, 25 September 1926

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Short Stories, 25 September 1926, with "The Two of Us"



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In spite of sun and rattlers, young Bob Adamson finally discovered not only the whereabouts of that wanted outlaw "Canada" Parkins, but the identity of his double.




WHEN Bob Adamson's partner did not return promptly from Torres, Bob only grinned philosophically. That is, he did not worry on Sunday night, or Monday, but when Tuesday came and went, he began to review half a dozen of the possible eventualities. Sag McCardell was an experienced hard rock man, a good enough scout and companion considering his age, with a somewhat testy temper and a periodical, overpowering desire tor liquor and cards on the widely scattered occasions when he was in funds. But he was heedless and extravagant when partly lifted by drink. Twice he had bestowed his share of the quartz claim upon genial companions; only the fact that young Bob faced the issue without flinching, and paid bills said to have been run up, saved the partnership.

On Wednesday morning, with provisions at low ebb and his job of shoring the walls of their thirty-foot prospect tunnel completed, Bob shouldered a pack and set out on foot across the black lava waste, making for a desert trail which skirted the Corduroy Hills, detoured to Gratagua Wells, and thence descended gradually into the valley at the foot of the grim and forbidding Red Chalk Range, where lay the scattering board shacks and huge stamp mills of Torres.

The old man probably was in jail, Bob reflected. For his trip the two had crushed rotted quartz and winnowed the threads and flecks of gold, until Sag had two pokes; one of these was a private account to be subtracted when his share of a first big ore cleanup came. The second, five times as heavy, was to be used in the purchase of additional drills, two more burros with packs, and plentiful supplies. The conglomerate exposed in the breast of crumbling, rotten rock at the end of their shallow stope was jewelry stuff. It was the ardent dream of young Bob Adamson that they might make enough from cleanups to allow them to bring in some machinery, running a small mill of their own eventually.

Shortly before noon, on the outskirts of the lava flow, Bob came upon all that was left of Sag McCardell. It was not much. A few bones and shreds of cloth. A bone-handled knife with great nicks in the single blade. A pair of boots torn to ribbons. Coyotes and buzzards had done their work.

From a careful examination at the scene, and a search of the trail further on. Bob deduced that Sag this time at least had been true to his expressed intentions. He evidently had been returning from Torres with several animals--doubtless the four burros they needed. Now no further sign of the burros or of the manner of Sag's taking off, remained; but Bob Adamson looked alert, grimly careful. A flinty light had come into his usually smiling blue eyes. Sag had been hardy, desert cured--not the sort just to lie down in the middle of the trail and check out like a wilted tenderfoot. Bob guessed all too surely that Sag had been murdered for the contents of the burros' packs. The Corduroy Hills in years past since Goldfield, and the Ponder strike at Torres, had won an unenviable notoriety as a refuge for desperadoes; Sag had warned his youthful partner about one in particular whom he had feared they might run across sooner or later, a man of gross bulk, over six feet in height, who wore a black patch over one eye--and who did all his killings from behind rocks or clumps of chaparral, using a rifle. The sheriffs of three counties had grim scores to settle with him; and even the fact that he had employed several different names in as many places of temporary residence had not prevented a comparing of notes. It was agreed that his real name probably was Canada Parkins; for on two or three occasions he was known to have boasted of an escape from the Royal Mounted.

Failing to discover where the burros had been taken, and certain only that they had not gone back toward Torres or Gratagua Wells, Bob returned for a last, sad duty to his old-timer comrade. There was little he could do save gather the pathetic bones and relics of cloth and leather, making a cairn of lava rock above them. The partnership had not been one of deep affection, such as sometimes obtains between silent desert men long depending upon one another. Sag McCardell seven months before had taken on Bob Adamson, an almost-tenderfoot, simply because the latter had a strong back and an amount of money sufficient to provide two grubstakes, at least. The oldster had been intolerant of mistakes and ignorance; but out of observation and from listening to Sag's huffy tirades. Bob Adamson had learned as much of the desert and of prospecting in a few months, as he could have garnered on his own in as many years. He felt a sense of genuine loss, and a deep, slow anger of the sort which came as a kind of flat ache from behind his Adam's apple to the breadth of his stomach. It was something like a resentment that remains, and which broods as much upon wrong, indecent conditions in a raw land as upon the men who exemplify the philosophy of that land.

In assembling the pitiful relics, Bob's eye caught something flattened against a segment of backbone. It was a leaden pellet, out of shape now, but of an outlandish weight. It was enormous! Beside it a .30-30 slug looked like a toy bullet! Though Bob Adamson from his own experience could not guess, he thrust in his pocket a battered lead missile fired from the largest-calibered rifle known until the relatively modern "explora" elephant and rhinoceros rifle. This earlier destructive weapon was the long barreled Ballard .54, a weapon which would stop a bison, or practically decapitate a man if it hit him in the throat. It tore a widening swath through flesh, bone and muscle, but did not penetrate as far as the smaller en liters.

The lava rock lay in shale-like flakes, great, baked chunks and fantastic shapes. Because of its relatively light weight Bob had little difficulty building his cairn, however. He just had lifted a huge flake, flattened and almost circular, when the rock was knocked from his grasp by a terrible blow. The breath driven from his lungs as by the impact of a pile-driver, he was bowled backward, realizing that a thunderous explosion near at hand occurred simultaneously.

Startled, he nevertheless saw and grasped the perilous situation instantly. From behind a stalagmite shaped upthrust of lava rose a curl of bluish smoke. A black rifle barrel projected. Behind it a twittered tan Stetson rose slowly, an evil, bearded countenance marked unforgettably by a black patch over the left eye.

Gasping air into his bruised lungs, Bob threw himself sidewise, clutching for his six-gun. The rifle roared again; but evidently the lurking assassin was an indifferent marksman, as the bullet did not even come close. Crouching, leaping erratically. Bob dodged behind an eroded chimney, and then, as a third bullet struck, to ricochet with a sibilant screech, he put further distance between himself and the enemy.

Once hidden behind a wall of lava, in a place where the broken formations offered many places of concealment, Bob's flight halted abruptly. He peered back, face grim and set, to fix in mind the position of the cowardly killer--the man he knew must be Canada Parkins, the murderer of his partner. Then swiftly, keeping to cover. Bob began to circle; six-gun in hand he was stalking in a grim duel to the death a notorious ambusher who had all the advantages of position and superior weapons. More than likely Canada, he supposed, furious at his failure, was after Bob likewise--though it was not his nature to allow a prospective victim any vestige of an even break.


AS a matter of fact the case was far different. The headlong flight of Bob Adamson had deceived the man with the eye-patch completely. Chuckling to himself with a grim humor scarcely understandable in such an outlaw, he made his way directly toward the south, striding easily over the rocks where even his hobnailed boots left no sign. He had terrified many a lone prospector in this fashion during the past month. Torres now seethed with tales of almost miraculous escapes--due to sheer hick, plus the excessively poor shooting of the man identified as Canada Parkins. Several posses, thus encouraged, had taken the trail; but no sign of the killer had been found.

A quarter of a mile from the scene of the bloodless encounter, a rugged granite cliff rose from the lava. Unscalable from the north, it nevertheless was the big man's objective. Skirting the butte-like formation, he came to a shallow cave. Therein lay four filled half-gallon canteens evidently brought that morning from Gratagua Wells--or from some desert tank known only to the outlaw. The heavy containers he snapped to his belt back of his hips. Then, slinging the big Ballard rifle by its strap across his shoulders, he began a goat-like climb, using hands and toes on almost invisible interstices in the seventy degree acclivity.

To a stranger the big rock must have seemed patently unscalable; but that had been the reason for its choice. The man with the eye patch had been up and down many times--often for no greater purpose than to collect dried mesquite branches for fuel. He reached the top in a few minutes.

There in a jagged, crater-like depression, deep enough to be shaded in some part through all of the day, was the hidden camp. Depositing his rifle and canteens--unstoppering one and taking a deep drink which elicited a sigh of immense satisfaction--he then took up a leather binocular case, lifting therefrom a pair of high power glasses.

Spreading a blanket on the hot rock near the cliff brink for comfort then, he stretched himself prone and lifted the glasses, peering first at the desert trail toward Gratagua.

Illustration

From this eyrie he planned and began all his operations. With aid of the twelve-power binoculars he could sweep three hundred degrees of a circle: only the heights of the barren Corduroys interrupted in a small segment near at hand; and, thirty miles away, the maroon colored ramparts of the Red Chalks beyond Torres loomed to interfere with westward vision. In all other directions he could discern the dust cloud raised by a man and burro, or a horseman, for sixty miles.

The trail to Torres was empty under the April sun. Well, that kid prospector wouldn't have had time to reach it. Probably he was still running--huh, hope he had water enough so he wouldn't get too thirsty out there in the lava. He--

The sweeping binoculars suddenly came to rest. "Huh! What the hell?" the big man ejaculated. "Well, the damn' nervy little gamecock!" The slow words were wrung from him admiringly. "Nothin' but a shiny nickel six-gun, and comin' after Canada Parkins!"

Down there in the black lava, a little to one side but within a hundred feet of the spot where he had met the outlaw, the figure of Bob Adamson leaped up into the field of his binoculars. Bob was crouching, advancing slowly now, taking advantage of every cover.

"Have to keep an eye out for him," muttered the smiling watcher. "He don't scare; not worth a cent!"

Down there that second something must have happened. Perchance a bit of crumbling rock fell from one of the odd shapes of lava. Perhaps a lizard--a loose skinned chukwalla--ran over some rattling rock chips. From above the wanted man could not tell.

But Bob Adamson froze, looking to the left, six-gun leveled under his chin. The sound must have been near at hand, for immediately he knelt, and then put down one hand. Slowly, stealthily he advanced. He crept around a rock corner, momentarily hidden from sight. Then he appeared again, darting glances this way and that, doubtless puzzled.

Then the snake struck.

Bob Adamson's yell came faintly to the eyrie, but for several seconds the man on watch could not imagine what had happened. From lands and knees the stalker suddenly leaped erect. He flung away his six-gun and plucked frantically at something writhing and slithery which clung to him and to his flannel shirt at a point on his side just below the right armpit.

"Good Lord! A diamond-back!" cried me outlaw. "Damn me, I done it!"

His bearded face tensed in understanding and horror. Down there a mere youth had been struck by a venomous rattlesnake--and all because of something like a joke! A joke with a sinister purpose unrevealed to the various victims, however. The man who then thrust aside the binoculars and hurried to his pack of necessaries in the rock crevasse, was far different from the supposed waylayer and assassin Canada Parkins was supposed to be. He cursed himself. He threw aside the strapped rifle, and jammed a pair of Remington six-guns into the sheaths of a new belt which he buckled about his middle. He took a small bottle of blue glass from his cache, and a shiny German silver case, a hypodermic set. Lastly a bottle of whisky, nearly full, was thrust into a deep hip pocket.

Then he climbed down the cliff face more recklessly than ever before.

"Hands up! High--no foolin'!" The newcomer, now acquainted with the temper of the youth who had been stalking him, appeared suddenly with six-gun leveled.

Bob Adamson, a dead rattler at his feet, stood shirtless. He was using a jack-knife, slicing deep cross fissures in the skin and muscle of his right side, where two bluish punctures from the venomous fangs had showed. His face was pale, for well he realized that nothing he could do--far from his camp as he was, and unprepared for this tragic emergency--could save him from a horrible death. His revolver and belt lay some yards away. Yet his blue eyes hardened into flinty discs of light as he gazed steadily at the man he supposed to be the murderer of Sag McCardell.

"Go to hell!" he retorted evenly, making no move to obey. A narrowing of the eyes told that now, even as he faced certain death, he was measuring the distance--figuring on one last play in which his life might be matched by that of this notorious killer.

"Don't be a fool!" snapped the big man, a curious snap coming into the last word. "I seen what happened. I got the stuff here to mebbe pull yuh through! Lay flown. Hell, fella, don't yuh see I want to save yore life?"

"So I can kill yuh?" This in derision.

"So yuh can do any damn' thing yuh want!"

Bob Adamson obeyed. Then without a second of wasted time, the man with the useless eye-patch thrust way up on his forehead, knelt at Bob's back and applied his lips to the gory slashes on the younger man's side. Bob felt as though the ribs themselves would be drawn through the skin by that mighty suction. Mouthful after mouthful of blood tinctured with deadly venom, was spat on the sand and rock. And then came four hypos of the potassium permanganate solution. The puffing wound was blown up artificially to a knob the size of a woman's fist.

"And now drink that likker down as fast as she'll go!" commanded the bearded man. "I dunno as it really does so much good, but they all use it."

A wan, somewhat bewildered smile came to the young man's grim lips. Through Bob Adamson's mind just then thoughts pain driven, were racing in a turmoil.

"You killed my pardner," he stated, though somewhat unsurely.

"I did like hell!" came back the eye-patched one with almost convincing heat. "If yuh stay alive an' kickin', I'll be able to say I never kilt a man! Hell, don't gag! That's the best red-eye I could buy. I reckon yuh ain't used to it so much, though. Well then it'll dig in to the roots. Lessee that side again. Huh, it's swellin' fast. Fella, where's yore camp? I couldn't pack yuh to mine, tor certain reasons, an' it'd kill yuh to walk. Tell me right now afore yuh go off yore nut, as mebbe yuh will."

Illustration

When Bob Adamson spoke, his enunciation was slurring. He felt lightheaded, queer, but whether from the whisky or the snake-bite he could not tell. The wound in his side pained increasingly, and a throbbing had come in the vein at the base of his neck. His forehead burned. Queer lights daggered over his eyes when he closed them. Little used to liquor, this doubtless came mostly from the enormous and sudden indulgence, though he did not know.

"Back there--across lava fieldsh--jus' unner rock pinnacle like chursh steeple--five mis-milesh--"

"Drunk on jest that much!" cried the bearded man in triumph, albeit marveling.

"Thassit. Now I'll squat--thisaway. Yuh climb right over on my shoulders--yeah. Hold to my waist with yore ankles, keepin' heels an' toes back. Yeah. An' lay yore chin right over my head. Grab my shirt if yuh gotta grab something.

"All right, fella. From now on I'm a desert camule on top speed. As long as yo're with me, jest direct me when I look like I'm headin' wrong!"


THE real Canada Parkins through late afternoon had investigated the claim lately belonging to old Sag McCardell and the scared out tenderfoot, Bob Adamson. The burly, evil featured killer was pleased. Though no miner, he had gleaned sufficient information concerning matters of this sort so he could estimate roughly the worth of this showing of conglomerate. By and by the youngster would come back, maybe with another old-timer partner to be killed. But when the youth did return it would be to a certainty of slavery. Canada had no idea in the world of working even gold quartz rich enough so a goodly fraction of its treasures could be winnowed out with the fingers, if need be. No indeed! He clinked a pair of handcuffs, taken with their key from one of the sheriffs he had slain, and grinned in anticipation. When that young fool came back--

A strange noise sounded on the trail. Almost it had seemed that someone spoke close at hand--a mumbling, half coherent jargon of speech. Parkins leaped away from his tiny cooking fire, crouching, his big rifle couched and ready for instant use.

But then minutes passed. There was no further disturbance. Parkins scouted out a short distance, peering from behind rocks, gradually accustoming his eyes to the light of stars and a young moon. The west still was faintly gray from sunset, enabling him to discern objects a hundred feet distant; but nothing beyond the rock shapes he had seen earlier, came to his view. Slowly he returned to the makeshift camp, putting out the glowing coals of his fire with reluctance. He would have stayed here at least overnight, since he was miles from his own hideout; but years of outlawry had imbued him with a caution so great it almost bad made itself one with instinct and intuition. Everything seemed right here; yet he had not accounted surely for that one scared tenderfoot. And then there had been an unexplained noise out there in the waste--

Doing up his blanket roll again, and lifting his deadly rifle, Canada Parkins turned to the spot where he had tethered the burros, intending temporarily to leave the claim which already he considered to be his own.

"Drop that gun!"

The harsh, intolerant command cut through the still night air like the rasp of sandpaper on stone. Just ahead of Canada Parkins, an upright figure, slightly crouching, detached itself from a blotch in the landscape.

The one-eyed outlaw cried out sharply, poignantly. He flinched. But surrender to anyone or any odds was the last consideration in his mind; long since he had put himself outside the pale wherein lay the slightest hope of mercy. With the cry he flung himself sidewise on the rock, snapping a shot with the huge rifle while he still was in air, and then instantly squirming to position for a second shot

His first bullet missed--or made no impression upon the harsh, waiting figure. Twin streams of copper fire belched parallel to the challenger's waist. Two shots--four--six! The man on the ground yelped a second time as one stung. The big gun belched again; but this time its flame went toward the zenith of the firmament. And then its barrel clattered on the rock. Canada Parkins had murdered his last victim from ambush.

TOWARD dawn, slowly, painfully Bob Adamson opened his granulated heavy eyelids. His features in many queer places were puffed somewhat out of shape--the result of the venom in his system. He ached from head to foot. His whole right side was stiffened, painful and immovable. His heart was beating slowly, almost audibly, it seemed--but it was beating! That in itself was something of a surprise.

Beside him there sprawled two blanket-clad bodies. From one came the long drawn snores of utter fatigue; the other, stiffened figure, that of Canada Parkins, never would snore again. To it the night hours had wrought the rigidity of rigor mortis.

Bob Adamson had a backbone of something much like steel. He fumbled about till he found a loaded six-gun. Then--still dizzy and half blind from the heady effects of the snake poison and the whisky--he crawled about, some moments gaping vacantly at nothing, simply trying to remember his own purpose. But in time he found the still figure, and distinguished the quick from the dead. The dead man looked remarkably like his emergency friend. Both were bearded. Both had carried Ballard rifles. Both wore the same kind of clothes. But one man was possessed of two good eyes--despite the black eye-flap now drawn high on his forehead. In the dead man's skull gaped a dull red hole.

Bob grinned slowly to himself. He was far from complete understanding even now; but to him had come a possible explanation which for the time being completely satisfied. He crawled over, tugged away a canteen from the dead body of Canada Parkins, drank a full pint of the warm fluid, and then sank back with a sigh. He was weak. He could wait for explanations.

But they came immediately. He had made enough noise to awaken the big, bearded man who had watched from the top of the granite rock.

"Huh, I'll take a drink, too, Kid," said he, extending a hand.

Bob passed over the canteen. "I see you got him," he said, grinning a rather sick but sincere apology. "Good for you!"

"Huh, so yuh know us apart now, hey!" chuckled the man Bob had stalked. "Well, that's better." He showed a deputy sheriff's badge, pinned under his left suspender brace. "I'm from Esmeralda County. Tom Gormeley's the name. Ain't got any of that likker left? No? Well then, I'll scurry up some coffee an' grub, an' tell yuh about it. I can see yuh ain't going to want to trail any for a day or so. Plenty time."

Right then Bob Adamson got the story, Tom Gormeley's brother had been murdered four months lack by Canada Parkins. Tom, seeing that ordinary retribution was hopeless, had himself sworn in as a deputy, got papers allowing him to hunt for this one outlaw all through Nye County as well, and then came to the Corduroys.

"I was about his size an' looks; so I growed a beard, an' put on that there eye patch," explained Tom. "I took along a Ballard rifle, too, so's to make it seem correct. Then I made me a camp as clost as I could figger to where he stayed. From then on I waylaid prospectors an' sechlike--allus missin' 'em when I shot, jest like I missed yuh! Hope I didn't knock too much breath outa yuh when I hit that rock! I'm a dead shot with most weapons, yuh see. I wasn't takin' no chance at all.

Illustration

"The big idea was mebbe Canady would get jealous of this fella who looked like him but who was sech a damn' rotten shot, an' come after him--me. I was only playin' with yuh, like I've played with nine-ten other hombres who was out here alone. I reckon it was the real Canady who kilt yore pardner. Anyway, it wasn't me. Yuh believe that?"

Bob Adamson nodded. "I believe every word, Tom," he said quietly. "You've proved yourself plumb white, and I like you!"

"Well, you and the old duck had a nice claim there," said Tom, his voice becoming diffident. "Who d'yuh s'pose owns the rest of that now?"

"I--I guess I do. We had that agreement," admitted Bob hesitantly. "But--

"Well, I gotta be takin' back my booty afore it spoils!" said Tom, getting to his feet. "Back there in that there chaparral, there's four-five burros an' a lot of plunder. Look it over; I reckon it's yours. Me, I'm borrowin' one of the burros for to carry this dead killer. There's six-seven thousand in rewards offered for him, yuh know--an' half of it goes to yuh. Bob Adamson."

"Not to me, big man!" said Bob, kneeling up and grinning as he offered his hand in parting. "Are you free to try something else after you get back to town? A partnership, say?"

"Huh," grunted Tom, turning away. "I--I'd have a fat chance buyin' in on that sorta prospect. Why Kid, it looks like it's worth a million!"

Bob Adamson laughed. "Come back here," he commanded, weakly getting again to his knees. "Just between the two of us, as partners, that share is going for five thousand cash deposited in the bank at Lamar. D'you suppose you'd like to come in?"

Tom looked at him, then away. His Adam's apple worked up and down. "Fella," he said then dryly, but with a strange note of intimacy coming into his voice unbidden, "as a pardner like I ain't never had before, what is it yo're wantin' me to do with the couple thousand that'll be left for snakebite? I figure that's jack belongin' to the two of us. What say?"


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.