Tangled trails a wester.., p.1
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       Tangled Trails: A Western Detective Story, p.1

           William MacLeod Raine
 
Tangled Trails: A Western Detective Story


  E-text prepared by Al Haines

  TANGLED TRAILS

  A Western Detective Story

  by

  WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE

  Author ofThe Big-Town Round-Up, Gunsight Pass, Etc.

  Grosset & DunlapPublishers New YorkMade in the United States of AmericaCopyright, 1921, by William Macleod RaineAll Rights ReservedThird Impression, March, 1922

  CONTENTS

  I. NO ALTRUIST II. WILD ROSE TAKES THE DUST III. FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE WORLD IV. NOT ALWAYS TWO TO MAKE A QUARREL V. COUSINS MEET VI. LIGHTS OUT VII. FOUL PLAY VIII. BY MEANS OF THE FIRE ESCAPE IX. THE STORY IN THE "NEWS" X. KIRBY ASKS A DIRECT QUESTION XI. THE CORONER'S INQUEST XII. "THAT'S THE MAN" XIII. "ALWAYS, PHYLLIS" XIV. A FRIEND IN NEED XV. A GLOVE AND THE HAND IN IT XVI. THE LADY WITH THE VIOLET PERFUME XVII. IN DRY VALLEY XVIII. "BURNIN' A HOLE IN MY POCKET" XIX. A DISCOVERY XX. THE BRASS BED XXI. JAMES LOSES HIS TEMPER XXII. "ARE YOU WITH ME OR AGAINST ME?" XXIII. COUSINS DISAGREE XXIV. REVEREND NICODEMUS RANKIN FORGETS AND REMEMBERS XXV. A CONFERENCE OF THREE XXVI. CUTTING TRAIL XXVII. THE DETECTIVE GETS TWO SURPRISES XXVIII. THE FINGER OF SUSPICION POINTS XXIX. "COME CLEAN, JACK" XXX. KIRBY MAKES A CALL XXXI. THE MASK OF THE RED BANDANNA XXXII. JACK TAKES OFF HIS COAT XXXIII. OLSON TELLS A STORY XXXIV. FROM THE FIRE ESCAPE XXXV. LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT XXXVI. A RIDE IN A TAXI XXXVII. ON THE GRILL XXXVIII. A FULL MORNING XXXIX. KIRBY INVITES HIMSELF TO A RIDE XL. THE MILLS OF THE GODS XLI. ENTER _X_ XLII. THE NEW WORLD

  TANGLED TRAILS

  CHAPTER I

  NO ALTRUIST

  Esther McLean brought the afternoon mail in to Cunningham. She put iton the desk before him and stood waiting, timidly, afraid to voice herdemand for justice, yet too desperately anxious to leave with itunspoken.

  He leaned back in his swivel chair, his cold eyes challenging her."Well," he barked harshly.

  She was a young, soft creature, very pretty in a kittenish fashion,both sensuous and helpless. It was an easy guess that unless fortunestood her friend she was a predestined victim to the world's selfishlove of pleasure, and fortune, with a cynical smile, had stood asideand let her go her way.

  "I . . . I . . ." A wave of color flooded her face. She twisted a ragof a handkerchief into a hard wadded knot.

  "Spit it out," he ordered curtly.

  "I've got to do something . . . soon. Won't you--won't you--?" Therewas a wail of despair in the unfinished sentence.

  James Cunningham was a grim, gray pirate, as malleable as cast iron andas soft. He was a large, big-boned man, aggressive, dominant, the kindthat takes the world by the throat and shakes success from it. Thecontour of his hook-nosed face had something rapacious written on it.

  "No. Not till I get good and ready. I've told you I'd look out foryou if you'd keep still. Don't come whining at me. I won't have it."

  "But--"

  Already he was ripping letters open and glancing over them. Tearsbrimmed the brown eyes of the girl. She bit her lower lip, choked backa sob, and turned hopelessly away. Her misfortune lay at her own door.She knew that. But-- The woe in her heart was that the man she hadloved was leaving her to face alone a night as bleak as death.

  Cunningham had always led a life of intelligent selfishness. He hadusually got what he wanted because he was strong enough to take it. Noscrupulous nicety of means had ever deterred him. Nor ever would. Heplayed his own hand with a cynical disregard of the rights of others.It was this that had made him what he was, a man who bulked large inthe sight of the city and state. Long ago he had made up his mind thataltruism was weakness.

  He went through his mail with a swift, trained eye. One of the lettershe laid aside and glanced at a second time. It brought a grim, hardsmile to his lips. A paragraph read:

  There's no water in your ditch and our crops are burning up. Yourwhole irrigation system in Dry Valley is a fake. You knew it, but wedidn't. You've skinned us out of all we had, you damned bloodsucker.If you ever come up here we'll dry-gulch you, sure.

  The letter was signed, "One You Have Robbed." Attached to it was aclipping from a small-town paper telling of a meeting of farmers to askthe United States District Attorney for an investigation of the DryValley irrigation project promoted by James Cunningham.

  The promoter smiled. He was not afraid of the Government. He had keptstrictly within the law. It was not his fault there was not enoughrainfall in the watershed to irrigate the valley. But the threat todry-gulch him was another matter. He had no fancy for being shot inthe back. Some crazy fool of a settler might do just that. He decidedto let an agent attend to his Dry Valley affairs hereafter. Hedictated some letters, closed his desk, and went down the street towardthe City Club. At a florist's he stopped and ordered a box of AmericanBeauties to be sent to Miss Phyllis Harriman. With these he enclosedhis card, a line of greeting scrawled on it.

  A poker game was on at the club and Cunningham sat in. He interruptedit to dine, holding his seat by leaving a pile of chips at the place.When he cashed in his winnings and went downstairs it was still early.As a card-player he was not popular. He was too keen on the mainchance and he nearly always won. In spite of his loud and frequentlaugh, of the effect of bluff geniality, there was no genuine humor inthe man, none of the milk of human kindness.

  A lawyer in the reading-room rose at sight of Cunningham. "Want to seeyou a minute," he said.

  "Let's go into the Red Room."

  He led the way to a small room furnished with a desk, writing supplies,and a telephone. It was for the use of members who wanted to beprivate. The lawyer shut the door.

  "Afraid I've bad news for you, Cunningham," he said.

  The other man's steady eyes did not waver. He waited silently.

  "I was at Golden to-day on business connected with a divorce case. Bychance I ran across a record that astonished me. It may be only acoincidence of names, but--"

  "Now you've wrapped up the blackjack so that it won't hurt, suppose yougo ahead and hit me over the head with it," suggested Cunningham dryly.

  The lawyer told what he knew. The promoter took it with no evidence offeeling other than that which showed in narrowed eyes hard as diamondsand a clenched jaw in which the muscles stood out like ropes.

  "Much obliged, Foster," he said, and the lawyer knew he was dismissed.

  Cunningham paced the room for a few moments, then rang for a messenger.He wrote a note and gave it to the boy to be delivered. Then he leftthe club.

  From Seventeenth Street he walked across to the Paradox Apartmentswhere he lived. He found a note propped up against a book on the tableof his living-room. It had been written by the Japanese servant heshared with two other bachelors who lived in the same building.

  Mr. Hull he come see you. He sorry you not here. He say maybe perhapsmake honorable call some other time.

  It was signed, "S. Horikawa."

  Cunningham tossed the note aside. He had no wish to see Hull. Thefellow was becoming a nuisance. If he had any complaint he could go tothe courts with it. That was what they were for.

  The doorbell rang. The promoter opened to a big, barrel-bodied man whopushed past him into the room.

  "What you want, Hull?" demanded Cunningham curtly.

  The man thrust his bull neck forward. A heavy roll of fat swelled overthe collar. "You know damn well what I want. I want what's comin' tome. My share of the Dry Valley clean-up. An' I'm gonna have it. See?"

  "You've had every cent you'll get. I told you that before."

  Tiny red capillaries
seamed the beefy face of the fat man. "An' I toldyou I was gonna have a divvy. An' I am. You can't throw down CassHull an' get away with it. Not none." The shallow protuberant eyesglittered threateningly.

  "Thought you knew me better," Cunningham retorted contemptuously."When I say I won't, I won't. Go to a lawyer if you think you've got acase. Don't come belly-aching to me."

  The face of the fat man was apoplectic. "Like sin I'll go to a lawyer.You'd like that fine, you double-crossin' sidewinder. I'll come with asix-gun. That's how I'll come. An' soon. I'll give you two days tocome through. Two days. If you don't--hell sure enough will cough."

  Whatever else could be said about Cunningham he was no coward. He metthe raving man eye to eye.

  "I don't scare worth a cent, Hull. Get out. _Pronto_. And don't comeback unless you want me to turn you over to the police for ablackmailing crook."

  Cunningham was past fifty-five and his hair was streaked with gray.But he stood straight as an Indian, six feet in his socks. The sap ofstrength still rang strong in him. In the days when he had ridden therange he had been famous for his stamina and he was even yet aformidable two-fisted fighter.

  But Hull was beyond prudence. "I'll go when I get ready, an' I'll comeback when I get ready," he boasted.

  There came a soft thud of a hard fist on fat flesh, the crash of aheavy bulk against the door. After that things moved fast. Hull'sbody reacted to the pain of smashing blows falling swift and sure.Before he knew what had taken place he was on the landing outside onhis way to the stairs. He hit the treads hard and rolled on down.

  A man coming upstairs helped him to his feet.

  "What's up?" the man asked.

  Hull glared at him, for the moment speechless. His eyes were venomous,his mouth a thin, cruel slit. He pushed the newcomer aside, opened thedoor of the apartment opposite, went in, and slammed it after him.

  The man who had assisted him to rise was dark and immaculately dressed.

  "I judge Uncle James has been exercising," he murmured before he tookthe next flight of stairs.

  On the door of apartment 12 was a legend in Old English engraved on acalling card. It said:

  James Cunningham

  The visitor pushed the electric bell. Cunningham opened to him.

  "Good-evening, Uncle," the younger man said. "Your elevator is notrunning, so I walked up. On the way I met a man going down. He seemedrather in a hurry."

  "A cheap blackmailer trying to bold me up. I threw him out."

  "Thought he looked put out," answered the younger man, smilingpolitely. "I see you still believe in applying direct energy todifficulties."

  "I do. That's why I sent for you." The promoter's cold eyes wereinscrutable. "Come in and shut the door."

  The young man sauntered in. He glanced at his uncle curiously from hissparkling black eyes. What the devil did James, Senior, mean by whathe had said? Was there any particular significance in it?

  He stroked his small black mustache. "Glad to oblige you any way Ican, sir."

  "Sit down."

  The young Beau Brummel hung up his hat and cane, sank into the easiestchair in the room, and selected a cigarette from a gold-initialed case.

  "At your service, sir," he said languidly.

 
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