“How should I know?” rejoined Brower, impatiently. “What you driving at?”
“I think I’ve seen her. I believe she’s not in Europe at all. I believe she’s a prisoner at the ranch.”
“My aunt!” ejaculated Brower. His nervousness was increasing—the symptoms I was to recognize so well. “Why the hell don’t you just shoot him from behind a bush? I’ll do it, if you won’t.”
“He’s too smooth for that.” And I told him what Hooper had told me. “His hold on these Mexicans is remarkable. I don’t doubt that fifty of the best killers in the southwest have lists of the men Old Man Hooper thinks might lay him out. And every man on that list would get his within a year—without any doubt. I don’t doubt that partner’s daughter would go first of all. You, too, of course.”
“My aunt!” groaned the jockey again.
“He’s a killer,” I went on, “by nature, and by interest—a bad combination. He ought to be tramped out like a rattlesnake. But this is a new country, and it’s near the border. I expect he’s got me marked. If I have to I’ll kill him just like I would a rattlesnake; but that wouldn’t do me a whole lot of good and would probably get a bunch assassinated. I’d like to figure something different. So you see you’d better come on in while the coming is good.”
“I see,” said the ex-jockey, very much subdued. “What’s your idea? What do you want me to do?”
That stumped me. To tell the truth I had no idea at all what to do.
“I don’t want you to go out to Hooper’s ranch alone,” said I.
“Trust me!” he rejoined, fervently.
“I reckon the first best thing is to get along out of town,” I suggested. “That black bag all the plunder you got?”
“Then we’ll go out a-horseback.”
We had lunch and a smoke and settled up with McCloud. About mid-afternoon we went on down to the livery corral. I knew the keeper pretty well, of course, so I borrowed a horse and saddle for Brower. The latter looked with extreme disfavour on both.
“This is no race meet,” I reminded him. “This is a means of transportation.”
“Sorry I ain’t got nothing better,” apologized Meigs, to whom I had confided my companion’s profession—I had to account for such a figure somehow. “All my saddle hosses went off with a mine outfit yesterday.”
“What’s the matter with that chestnut in the shed?”
“He’s all right; fine beast. Only it ain’t mine. It belongs to Ramon.”
“Ramon from Hooper’s?”
“I’d let you ride my horse and take Meigs’s old skate myself,” I said to Brower, “but when you first get on him this bronc of mine is a rip-humming tail twister. Ain’t he, Meigs?”
“He’s a bad caballo,” corroborated Meigs.
“Does he buck?” queried Brower, indifferently.
“Every known fashion. Bites, scratches, gouges, and paws. Want to try him?”