“In about two minutes,” I observed to McCloud, “you’re going to observe yon butterfly turn into a stinging lizard. He’s going to head in this direction; and he’ll probably aim to climb my hump. Such being the case, and the affair being private, you’ll do me a favour by supervising something in some remote corner of the premises.”
“Sure,” said McCloud, “I’ll go twist that Chink washee-man. Been intending to for a week.” And he stumped out on his wooden foot.
The comet hit at precisely 7:42 by McCloud’s big clock. Its head was Brower at high speed and tension; and its tail was the light alkali dust of Arizona mingled with the station agent. No irresistible force and immovable body proposition in mine; I gave to the impact.
“Why, sure, I got ’em for you,” I answered. “You left your dope lying around loose so I took care of it for you. As for your bag; you seemed to set such store by it that I got that for you, too.”
Which deflated that particular enterprise for the moment, anyway. The station agent, too mad to spit, departed before he should be tempted beyond his strength to resist homicide.
“I suppose you’re taking care of my gun for me, too,” said Brower; but his irony was weak. He was evidently off the boil.
“Your gun?” I echoed. “Have you lost your gun?”
He passed his hand across his eyes. His super-excitement had passed, leaving him weak and nervous. Now was the time for my counter-attack.
“Here’s your gun,” said I, “didn’t want to collect any lead while you were excited, and I’ve got your dope,” I repeated, “in a safe place.” I added, “and you’ll not see any of it again until you answer me a few questions, and answer them straight.”
“If you think you can roll me for blackmail,” he came back with some decision, “you’re left a mile.”
“I don’t want a cent; but I do want a talk.”
“Shoot,” said he.
“How often do you have to have this dope—for the best results; and how much of it at a shot?”
He stared at me for a moment, then laughed.
“What’s it to yuh?” he repeated his formula.
“I want to know.”
“I get to needing it about once a day. Three grains will carry me by.”
“All right; that’s what I want to know. Now listen to me. I’m custodian of this dope, and you’ll get your regular ration as long as you stick with me.”
“I can always hop a train. This ain’t the only hamlet on the map,” he reminded me.
“That’s always what you can do if you find we can’t work together. That’s where you’ve got me if my proposition doesn’t sound good.”
“What is your proposition?” he asked after a moment.
“Before I tell you, I’m going to give you a few pointers on what you’re up against. I don’t know how much you know about Old Man Hooper, but I’ll bet there’s plenty you don’t know about.”