The drumming of hoofs came down the wind to a young fellow returning from a late call on his sweetheart. He wondered who was in such a hurry.
DUG DOBLE RIDES INTO THE HILLS
The booming of the guns died down. The acrid smoke that filled the room lifted to shredded strata. A man’s deep breathing was the only sound in the heavy darkness.
Presently came a soft footfall of some one moving cautiously. A match flared. A hand cupped the flame for an instant to steady it before the match moved toward the wick of a kerosene lamp.
Dug Doble’s first thought was for his own safety. The house door was closed, the window blinds were down. He had heard the beat of hoofs die away on the road. But he did not intend to be caught by a trick. He stepped forward, locked the door, and made sure the blinds were offering no cracks of light. Satisfied that all was well, he turned to the figure sprawled on the floor with outflung arms.
“Dead as a stuck shote,” he said callously after he had turned the body over. “Got him plumb through the forehead—in the dark, too. Some shootin’, Shorty.”
He stood looking down at the face of the man whose brain had spun so many cobwebs of deceit and treachery. Even in death it had none of that dignity which sometimes is lent to those whose lives have been full of meanness and guile. But though Doble looked at his late ally, he was not thinking about him. He was mapping out his future course of action.
If any one had heard the shots and he were found here now, no jury on earth could be convinced that he had not killed Steelman. His six-shooter still gave forth a faint trickle of smoke. An examination would show that three shots had been fired from it.
He must get away from the place at once.
Doble poured himself half a tumbler of whiskey and drank it neat. Yes, he must go, but he might as well take with him any money Steelman had in the safe. The dead man owed him a thousand dollars he would never be able to collect in any other way.
He stooped and examined the pockets of the still figure. A bunch of keys rewarded him. An old-fashioned safe stood in the corner back of the desk. Doble stooped in front of it, then waited for an instant to make sure nobody was coming. He fell to work, trying the keys one after another.
A key fitted. He turned it and swung open the door. The killer drew out bundles of papers and glanced through them hurriedly. Deeds, mortgages, oil stocks, old receipts: he wanted none of these, and tossed them to the floor as soon as he discovered there were no banknotes among them. Compartment after compartment he rifled. Behind a package of abstracts he found a bunch of greenbacks tied together by a rubber band at each end. The first bill showed that the denomination was fifty dollars. Doble investigated no farther. He thrust the bulky package into his inside coat pocket and rose.