Black jack, p.20
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       Black Jack, p.20

           Max Brand


  There was an astonishing deal of life in the town, however. A largecompany had reopened some old diggings across the range to the north ofCalkins, and some small fragments of business drifted the way of thelittle cattle town. Terry found a long line of a dozen horses waiting tobe shod before the blacksmith shop. One great wagon was lumbering out atthe farther end of the street, with the shrill yells of the teamstercalling back as he picked up his horses one by one with his voice.Another freight-wagon stood at one side, blocking half the street. And astir of busy life was everywhere in the town. The hotel and storecombined was flooded with sound, and the gambling hall across the streetwas alive even at midday.

  It was noon, and Terry found that the dining room was packed to the lastchair. The sweating waiter improvised a table for him in the corner ofthe hall and kept him waiting twenty minutes before he was served withham and eggs. He had barely worked his fork into the ham when a familiarvoice hailed him.

  "Got room for another at that table?"

  He looked up into the grinning face of Denver. For some reason it was ashock to Terry. Of course, the second meeting was entirely coincidental,but a still small voice kept whispering to him that there was fate in it.He was so surprised that he could only nod. Denver at once appropriated achair and seated himself in his usual noiseless way.

  When he rearranged the silver which the waiter placed before him, therewas not the faintest click of the metal. And Terry noted, too, a certainnice justness in every one of Denver's motions. He was never fiddlingabout with his hands; when they stirred, it was to do something, and whenthe thing was done, the hands became motionless again.

  His eyes did not rove; they remained fixed for appreciable periodswherever they fell, as though Denver were finding something worthremembering in the wall, or in a spot on the table. When his glancetouched on a face, it hung there in the same manner. After a moment onewould forget all the rest of his face, brutal, muscular, shapeless, andsee only the keen eyes.

  Terry found it difficult to face the man. There was need to be excitedabout something, to talk with passion, in order to hold one's own in thepresence of Denver, even when the chunky man was silent. He was notsilent now; he seemed in a highly cheerful, amiable mood.

  "Here's luck," he said. "I didn't know this God-forsaken country couldraise as much luck as this!"

  "Luck?" echoed Terry.

  "Why not? D'you think I been trailing you?"

  He chuckled in his noiseless way. It gave Terry a feeling of expectation.He kept waiting for the sound to come into that laughter, but it neverdid. Suddenly he was frank, because it seemed utterly futile to attemptto mask one's real thoughts from this fellow.

  "I don't know," he said, "that it would surprise me if you _had_ beentailing me. I imagine you're apt to do queer things, Denver."

  Denver hissed, very softly and with such a cutting whistle to his breaththat Terry's lips remained open over his last word.

  "Forget that name!" Denver said in a half-articulate tone of voice.

  He froze in his place, staring straight before him; but Terry gathered animpression of the most intense watchfulness--as though, while he staredstraight before him, he had sent other and mysterious senses exploringfor him. He seemed suddenly satisfied that all was well, and as herelaxed, Terry became aware of a faint gleam of perspiration on the browof his companion.

  "Why the devil did you tell me the name if you didn't want me to use it?"he asked.

  "I thought you'd have some savvy; I thought you'd have some of your dad'shorse sense," said Denver.

  "No offense," answered Terry, with the utmost good nature.

  "Call me Shorty if you want," said Denver. In the meantime he wasregarding Terry more and more closely.

  "Your old man would of made a fight out of it if I'd said as much to himas I've done to you," he remarked at length.

  "Really?" murmured Terry.

  And the portrait of his father swept back on him--the lean, imperious,handsome face, the boldness of the eyes. Surely a man all fire andpowder, ready to explode. He probed his own nature. He had never beenparticularly quick of temper--until lately. But he began to wonder if hisequable disposition might not rise from the fact that his life in BearValley had been so sheltered. He had been crossed rarely. In the outerworld it was different. That very morning he had been tempted wickedly totake the tall rancher by the throat and grind his face into the sand.

  "But maybe you're different," went on Denver. "Your old man used to flareup and be over it in a minute. Maybe you remember things and pack agrudge with you."

  "Perhaps," said Terry, grown strangely meek. "I hardly know."

  Indeed, he thought, how little he really knew of himself. Suddenly hesaid: "So you simply happened over this way, Shorty?"

  "Sure. Why not? I got a right to trail around where I want. Besides, whatwould there be in it for me--following you?"

  "I don't know," said Terry gravely. "But I expect to find out sooner orlater. What else are you up to over here?"

  "I have a little job in mind at the mine," said Denver. "Something thatmay give the sheriff a bit of trouble." He grinned.

  "Isn't it a little--unprofessional," said Terry dryly, "for you to tellme these things?"

  "Sure it is, bo--sure it is! Worst in the world. But I can always tell agent that can keep his mouth shut. By the way, how many jobs you beenfired from already?"

  Terry started. "How do you know that?"

  "I just guess at things."

  "I started working for an infernal idiot," sighed Terry. "When he learnedmy name, he seemed to be afraid I'd start shooting up his place one ofthese days."

  "Well, he was a wise gent. You ain't cut out for working, son. Not a bit.It'd be a shame to let you go to waste simply raising calluses on yourhands."

  "You talk well," sighed Terry, "but you can't convince me."

  "Convince you? Hell, I ain't trying to convince your father's son. You'relike Black Jack. You got to find out yourself. We was with a Mick, once.Red-headed devil, he was. I says to Black Jack: 'Don't crack no jokesabout the Irish around this guy!'

  "'Why not?' says your dad.

  "'Because there'd be an explosion,' says I.

  "'H'm,' says Black Jack, and lifts his eyebrows in a way he had of doing.

  "And the first thing he does is to try a joke on the Irish right in frontof the Mick. Well, there was an explosion, well enough."

  "What happened?" asked Terry, carried away with curiosity.

  "What generally happened, kid, when somebody acted up in front of yourdad?" From the air he secured an imaginary morsel between stubby thumband forefinger and then blew the imaginary particle into empty space.

  "He killed him?" asked Terry hoarsely.

  "No," said Denver, "he didn't do that. He just broke his heart for him.Kicked the gat out of the hand of the poor stiff and wrestled with him.Black Jack was a wildcat when it come to fighting with his hands. When hegot through with the Irishman, there wasn't a sound place on the fool.Black Jack climbed back on his horse and threw the gun back at the guy onthe ground and rode off. Next we heard, the guy was working for aChinaman that run a restaurant. Black Jack had taken all the fight out ofhim."

  That scene out of the past drifted vividly back before Terry's eyes. Hesaw the sneer on the lips of Black Jack; saw the Irishman go for his gun;saw the clash, with his father leaping in with tigerish speed; felt theshock of the two strong bodies, and saw the other turn to pulp under thegrip of Black Jack.

  By the time he had finished visualizing the scene, his jaw was set hard.It had been easy, very easy, to throw himself into the fierceness of hisdead father's mood. During this moment of brooding he had been lookingdown, and he did not notice the glance of Denver fasten upon him with analmost hypnotic fervor, as though he were striving to reach to the verysoul of the younger man and read what was written there. When Terrylooked up, the face of his companion was as calm as ever.

  "And you're like the old boy," de
clared Denver. "You got to find out foryourself. It'll be that way with this work idea of yours. You've lost onejob. You'll lose the next one. But--I ain't advising you no more!"

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