I took another tack, affecting incredulity.
“The hell he is! He’ll hand you over to Ramon and that will be the last of a certain jockey.”
“No, he won’t do no such trick. I’ve fixed that; and he knows it. If he kills me, he’ll lose all he’s got ’stead of only part.”
“You’re drunk or dreaming,” said I. “If you bother him, he’ll just plain have you killed. That’s a little way of his.”
“And if he does a friend of mine will just go to a certain place and get certain papers and give ’em to a certain lawyer—and then where’s old H.H.? And he knows it, damn well. And he’s going to be good to Artie and give him what he wants. We’ll get along fine. Took him a long time to come to it; but I didn’t take no chances while he was making up his mind; you can bet on that.”
“Blackmail, eh?” I said, with just enough of a sneer to fire him.
“Blackmail nothing!” he shouted. “It ain’t blackmail to take away what don’t belong to a man at all!”
“What don’t belong to him?”
“Nothing. Not a damn thing except his money. This ranch. The oil wells in California. The cattle. Not a damn thing. That was the agreement with his pardner when they split. And I’ve got the agreement! Now what you got to say?”
“Say? Why its loco! Why doesn’t the pardner raise a row?”
“His heirs then?”
“He hasn’t got but one heir—his daughter.” My heart skipped a beat in the amazement of a half idea. “And she knew nothing about the agreement. Nobody knows but old H.H.—and me.” He sat back, visibly gloating over me. But his mood was passing. His earlier exhilaration had died, and with it was dying the expansiveness of his confidence. The triumph of his last speech savoured he slipped again into his normal self. He looked at me suspiciously, and raised his whiskey to cover his confusion.
“What’s it to yuh, anyway?” he muttered into his glass darkly. His eyes were again shifting here and there; and his lips were snarled back malevolently to show his teeth.
At this precise moment the lords of chance willed Windy Bill and others to intrude on our privacy by opening the door and hurling several whiskey-flavoured sarcasms at the pair of us. The jockey seemed to explode after the fashion of an over-inflated ball. He squeaked like a rat, leaped to his feet, hurled the chair on which he had been sitting crash against the door from which Windy Bill et al had withdrawn hastily, and ended by producing a small wicked-looking automatic—then a new and strange weapon—and rushing out into the main saloon. There he announced that he was known to the cognoscenti as Art the Blood and was a city gunman in comparison with which these plain, so-called bad men were as sucking doves to the untamed eagle. Thence he glanced briefly at their ancestry as far as known; and ended by rushing forth in the general direction of McCloud’s hotel.