“Who is he?”
“He’s what they call a showfer. He runs one o’ these automobiles; takes parties out in it.”
“Been here long? Looks kind o’ like a tinhorn gambler.”
“Not long. He’s thick with some of you Malpais gents. I’ve seen him with Healy a few.”
“Oh, with Healy.”
Jim regarded the sportive youth more attentively, and presently dropped into a vacant seat beside him, buying twenty dollars worth of chips.
Spiker was losing steadily. He did not play either a careful or a brilliant game. Jim, playing very conservatively, and just about holding his own, listened to the angry bursts and the boastings of the man next him, and drew his own conclusions as to his character. After a couple of hours of play the Malpais man cashed in and went back to the hotel where he was putting up.
He slept till late, ate breakfast leisurely, and after an hour of looking over the paper and gossiping with the hotel clerk about the holdup he called casually upon the deputy sheriff. Only one thing of importance he gleaned from him. This was that the roan with the white stockings had been picked up seven miles from Noches the morning after the holdup.
This put a crimp in Healy’s story of having seen Keller in the Pass on the animal. Furthermore, it opened a new field for surmise. Brill Healy said that he had seen the horse with a wound in its flank. Now, how did he know it was wounded, since Slim had not mentioned this when he had telephoned? It followed that if he had not seen the broncho—and that he had seen it was a sheer physical impossibility—he could know of the wound only because he was already in close touch with what had happened at Noches.
But how could he be aware of what was happening fifty miles away? That was the sticker Jim could not get around. His alibi was just as good as that of the horse. Both of them rested on the assumption that neither could cover the ground between two given points in a given time. There was one other possible explanation—that Healy had been in telephonic communication with Noches before he met Phyllis. But this seemed to Jim very unlikely, indeed. By his own story he had been cutting trail all afternoon and had seen nobody until he met Phyllis.
Yeager called on the cashier, Benson, later in the day, and had a talk with him and with the president, Johnson. Both of these were now back at their posts, though the latter was not attempting much work as yet. Jim talked also with many others. Some of them had theories, but none of them had any new facts to advance.
The young cattleman put up at the same hotel as Spiker and struck up a sort of intimacy with him. They sometimes loafed together during the day, and at night they were always to be seen side by side at the poker table.
BREAKING DOWN AN ALIBI