The Trail of the White Mule by B.M. Bower
Mack Nolan had just crawled into his bunk on Wednesday night when he thought he heard a car laboring up the gulch. He sat up in bed to listen and then got hurriedly into his clothes. He was standing just around the corner of the dugout where the headlights could not reach him, when Casey killed the engine and stopped before the door. Steam was rising in a small cloud from the radiator cap, and the sound of boiling water was distinctly audible some distance away.
Mack Nolan waited until Casey had climbed out from behind the wheel and headed for the door. Then he stepped out and hailed him. Casey started perceptibly, whirling as if to face an enemy. When he saw that it was Nolan he apparently lost his desire to enter the cabin. Instead he came close to Nolan and spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"We better run 'er under the shed, Mr. Nolan, and drain the darned radiator. I dunno am I follered or not, but I was awhile back. But the man that catches Casey Ryan when he's on the trail an' travelin, has yet t' be born. An' you can ask anybody if that ain't so."
Mack Nolan's eyes narrowed. "And who followed you then?" he asked quietly. "Did you bring any hootch?"
"Did yuh send Casey Ryan after hootch, or was it mebby spuds er somethin'?" Casey retorted with heavy dignity. "Will yuh pack it in, Mr. Nolan, whilst I back the car in the shed, or shall I bring it when I come? It ain't so much," he added drily, "but it cost the trouble of a trainload."
"I'll take it in," said Nolan. "If any one does come we want no evidence in reach."
Casey turned to the car, clawed at his camp outfit and lifted out a demijohn which he grimly handed to Nolan. "Fer many a mile it rode on the seat with me so I could drink 'er down if they got me cornered," he grinned. "One good swaller is about the size of it, Mr. Nolan."
Nolan grinned in sympathy and turned into the cabin, bearing the three-gallon, wicker-covered glass bottle in his arms. Presently he returned to the doorway and stood there listening down the gulch until Casey came up, walking from the shed.
"'Tis a good thing yuh left this other car standin' here cold an' peaceful, Mr. Nolan," Casey, observed, after he also had stood for a minute listening. "If they're follerin' they'll be here darn' soon. If they ain't I've ditched 'em. Let's git t' bed an' I'll tell yuh my tale uh woe."
Without a word Nolan led the way into the cabin. In the dark they undressed and got into the bed which was luckily wide enough for two.
"Had your supper?" Nolan asked belatedly when they were settled.
"I did not," Casey grunted. "I will say, Mr. Nolan, there's few times in my life when you'd see Casey Ryan missin' 'is supper whilst layin' tracks away from a fight. But if it was light enough you could gaze upon 'im now. And I must hand it t' the Gallopin' Gussie yuh give me the loan of fer the trip. She brung me home ahead of the sheriff--and you can ask anybody if Casey Ryan himself can't be proud uh that!"
"The sheriff?" Nolan's voice was puzzled. He seemed to be considering something for a minute, before he spoke again. "You could have explained to the sheriff, couldn't you, your reason for having booze in the car?"
Casey raised to one elbow. "When yuh told Casey Ryan 'twas not many men you'd trust, and that you trusted me an' the business was t' be secret--Mr. Nolan, you 'was talkin' t' Casey Ryan!" He lay down again as if that precluded further argument.
"Good! I thought I hadn't made a mistake in my man," Nolan approved, in a tone that gave Casey an inner glow of pride in himself. "Let's have the story, old man. Did you see Bill Masters?"
"Bill Masters," said Casey grimly, "was not in Lund. His garage is sold an, Bill's in Denver--which is a long drive for a Ford t' git there an, back before Friday midnight. Yuh put a time limit me, Mr. Nolan, an' nobody had Bill's address. I didn't foller Bill t' Denver. I asked some others in Lund if they knowed a man named Kenner, and they did not. So then I went huntin' booze that I could git without the hull of Nevada knowin' it in fifteen minutes. An' Casey's got this t' say: When yuh want hootch. it's hard t' find as free gold in granite. When yuh don't want it, it's forced on yuh at the point of a gun. This jug I stole--seein' your business is private, Mr. Nolan.
"I grabbed it off some fellers I knowed in Lund an' never had no use for, anyway. They're mean enough when they're sober, an' when they're jagged they're not t' be mentioned on a Sunday. I mighta paid 'em for it, but money's no good t' them fellers an' there's no call t' waste it. So they made a holler and I sets the jug down an' licks them both, an' comes along home mindin' my own business.
"So I guess they 'phoned the sheriff in Vegas that here comes a bootlegger and land 'im quick. Anyway, I was goin' t' stop there an' take on a beefsteak an' a few cups uh coffee, but I never done it. I was slowin' down in front uh Sam's Place when a friend uh mine gives me the high sign t' put 'er in high an' keep 'er goin'. Which I done.
"Down by Ladd's, Casey looks back an' here comes the sheriff's car hell bent fer 'lection (anyway it looked like the sheriff's car). An' I wanta say right here, Mr. Nolan, that's a darn' good Ford yuh got! I was follered, and 'I was follered hard. But I'm here an' they' ain't--an' you can ask anybody if that didn't take some going'!"
In the darkness of the cabin Casey turned over and heaved a great sigh. On the heels of that came a chuckle.
"I got t' hand it t' the L. A. traffic cops, Mr. Nolan. They shore learned me a lot about dodgin'. So now yuh got the hull story. If it was the sheriff behind me an' if he trails me here, they got no evidence an' you can mebby square it with 'im. You'd know what t' tell 'im--which is more'n what Casey Ryan can say."
Casey fell asleep immediately afterward, but Mack Nolan lay for a long while with his eyes wide open and his ears alert for strange sounds in the gulch. He was a new man in this district, working independently of sheriff's offices. Casey Ryan was the first man he had confided in; all others were fair game for Nolan to prove honest or dishonest with the government. The very nature of his business made it so. For when whisky runners drove openly in broad daylight through the country with their unlawful loads, somewhere along the line officers of the law were sharing the profits. Nolan knew none of them,--by sight. If he carried the records of some safely memorized and pigeonholed for future use, that was his own business. Mack Nolan's thoughts were his own and he guarded them jealously and slept with his lips tightly closed. He wanted no sheriff coming to him for explanation of his movements. Wherefore he listened long, and when he slept his slumber was light.
At daylight he was up and abroad. Two hours after sunrise Casey awoke with the smell of breakfast in his nostrils. He rolled over and blinked at Mack Nolan standing with his hat on the back of his head and a cigarette between his lips, calmly turning three hot-cakes with a kitchen knife. Casey grinned condescendingly. He himself turned his cakes by the simple process of tossing them in the air a certain kind of flip, and catching them dexterously as they came down. Right there he decided that Mack Nolan was not after all a real outdoors man.
"Well, the sheriff didn't arrive last night," Nolan observed cheerfully, when he saw that Casey was awake. "I don't much look for him, either. Your driving on past the turn to Juniper Wells and coming up that other old road very likely threw him off the track. You must have been close to the State line then and he gave you up as a bad job."
"It was a good job!" Casey maintained reaching for his clothes. "I made 'em think I was headed clean outa the country. If they knowed who it was at all, they'd know I belong in L. A., and I figured they'd guess I was headed there. They stopped for something this side of Searchlight an' so I pulls away from 'em a couple of miles. They never seen where I went to."
While he washed for breakfast, Casey began to take stock of certain minor injuries.
"That darned Pete Gibson has got tushes in his mouth like a wild hawg; the kind that sticks out," he grumbled, touching certain skinned places on his knuckles. "Every time I landed on 'im yesterday I run against them tushes uh his'n." But he added with a grin, "They ain't so solid as they was when I met up with 'im. I felt one of 'em give 'fore I got through."
"Brings the price of moonshine up a bit, doesn't it?" Nolan suggested drily. "I rather think you might better have paid the men their price. A fight is well enough in its way--I'm Irish myself. But as my agent, Ryan, the main idea is to let the law fight for you. Our work is merely to give the law a chance. I like your not wanting to explain to the sheriff. Prohibition officers do not explain, as a rule. The law behind them does that.
"And since the price seems to be rather hard on the knuckles--" He glanced down at Casey's hands and grinned"--I think it may come cheaper to make the stuff ourselves. Licking two men for three gallons, and getting the officers at your tail light into the bargain, is all right as an experiment; but I don't believe, Ryan, we ought to adopt that as a habit.
Casey cocked an eye up at him. "Did yuh ever make White Mule, Mr. Nolan? he asked grimly.
Nolan laughed his easy little chuckle. "Why, no, Ryan, I never did. Did you?"
"Naw. I seen some made once, but I had too much of it inside me at the time to learn the receipt for it. I'd rather steal it, if it's all the same to you, Mr. Nolan." His hand went up to the back of his head and moved forward, although there was no hat to push. "I've lived honest all these years--an', dammit, it's kinda tough to break out with stealin I what yuh don't want! Couldn't we fill them bottles with somethin' that looks like hootch? Cold tea should get by, Mr. Nolan. It'd be a fine joke on Smilin' Lou."
"A good joke, maybe--but no evidence. It isn't against the law, Ryan, to have cold tea in your possession. No, it's got to be whisky, and there's got to be a load of it. Enough to look like business and tempt him or any other member of the gang you happen to meet. If they caught you with three gallons, Casey, they'd probably run you in and feel very virtuous about it. Nothing for it, I'm afraid. We'll have to become real moonshiners ourselves for awhile."
Casey ate with less appetite after that. Making moonshine did not appeal to him at all. Given his choice, I think he would even prefer drinking it, unhappy as the effect had been on him.
"We'll need a still, and we'll need the stuff. I'm going to leave you in charge of the camp, Ryan, while I make a trip to Needles. I'll deputize you to assist me in cleaning up this district. And this district, Ryan, touches salt water. So if revenge looks good to you, you'll have a fine chance to get even with the bootleggers. And in the meantime, just kill time around camp here while I'm gone. If any one shows up, you're prospecting."
That day, doubt-devils took hold of Casey Ryan and plucked at his belief. How did he know that Mack Nolan wasn't another bootlegger, wanting to rope Casey in on a job for some fell purpose of his own? He had Mack Nolan's word and nothing more. For that matter, he had also had young Kenner's word. Kenner had fooled him completely. Mack Nolan could also fool him--perhaps.
"Well, anyhow, he never claimed to know Bill Masters, and that's a point in 'is favor. And if it's some dirty work he's up to, he coulda made it shorter than what he's doin'. An' if he's double-crossin' Casey Ryan--well, anyway, Casey Ryan 'll be present at the time an' place when he does it!"
Upon that comforting thought, Casey decided to trust Mack Nolan until he caught him playing crooked; and proceeded to kill time as best he could.