Chapter Twenty-Two

At Dagget, the big, blue car with a lady driver sounded the warning signal and passed Mack Nolan and the Cadillac roadster. Like Casey Ryan, Nolan is rather proud of his driving, and with sufficient reason. He was already hurrying, not to overhaul Casey, but to arrive soon after him.

Women drivers loved to pass other cars with a sudden spurt of speed, he had found by experience. They were not, however, consistently fast drivers. Mack Nolan was conscious of a slight irritation when the twin-six took the lead. Somewhere ahead--probably in one of the rough, sandy stretches--he would either have to pass that car or lag behind. Your expert driver likes a clear road ahead.

So Mack Nolan drove a bit harder, and succeeded in getting most of the dust kicked up by the big, blue car. He counted on passing before they reached Ludlow, but he could never quite make it. In that ungodly stretch of sand and rocks and chuck-holes that lies between Ludlow and Amboy, Nolan was sure that the woman driver would have to slow down. He swore a little, too, because she would probably slow down just where passing was impossible. They always did.

They went through Amboy like one party, the big, blue car leading by twenty-five yards. It was a long drive for a woman to make; a hard drive to boot. He wondered if the two in the big car ever ate.

Five miles east of Amboy, when a red sunset was darkening to starlight, the blue car, fifty yards in the lead, overhauled a Ford in trouble. In the loose, sandy trail the big car slowed and stopped abreast of the Ford. There was no passing now, unless Mack Nolan wanted to risk smashing his crank-case on a lava rock, millions of which peppered that particular portion of the Mojave Desert. He stopped perforce.

A pair of feet with legs attached to them, protruded from beneath the running board of the Ford. The Little Woman in the big car leaned over the side and studied the feet critically.

"Casey Ryan, are those the best pair of shoes you own?" she drawled at last. "If you wouldn't wear such rundown heels, you know, you wouldn't look so bow-legged. I've told you and told you that your legs aren't so bad when you wear straight heels."

Casey Ryan crawled out and looked up at her grinning sheepishly.

"They was all right when I left home, ma'am," he defended his shoes mildly. "Desert plays hell with shoe leather--you can ask anybody." Then he added, "Hullo, Jack! What you two think you're doin', anyway. Tryin' t' elope?"

"Why, hello, Ryan!" Mack Nolan greeted, coming up from the Cadillac. "Having trouble with your car?" Casey whirled and eyed Nolan dubiously.

"Naw. This ain't no trouble," he granted. "I only been here four hours or so--this is pastime!"

There was an awkward silence. We in the blue car wanted to know (not at that time knowing) who was the man in the Cadillac roadster, and how he happened to know Casey so well. Nolan, no doubt, wanted to know who we were. And there was so much that Casey wanted to know and needed to know that he couldn't seem to think of anything. However, Casey was the hardest to down. He came up to the side of the blue car, reached in with his hands all greasy black, and took the Little Woman's hand from the wheel and kissed it. The Little Woman made a caressing sound and leaned out to him--and Nolan and I felt that we mustn't look. So our eyes met.

He came around to my side of the car and put out his hand.

"I'm pretty good at guessing," he smiled. "I guess you're Jack Gleason. Casey has talked of you to me. I'm right glad to meet you, too. My name is Mack Nolan, and I'm Irish. I'm Casey Ryan's partner. We have a good--prospect."

Casey looked past the Little Woman and me, straight into Mack Nolan's eyes. I felt something of an electric quality in the air while their gaze held.

"I'm just getting back from a trip down in the valley," Nolan observed easily. "You never did see me in town duds, did you, Casey?" His eyes went to the Little Woman's face and then to me. "I suppose you know what this wild Irishman has just pulled off back there," he said, tilting his head toward San Bernardino, many a mile away to the southwest. "You wouldn't think it to look at him, but he surely has thrown a monkey wrench into as pretty a bootlegging machine as there is in the country. It's such confidential stuff, of course, that you may call it absolutely secret. But for once I'm telling the truth about it.

"Your husband, Mrs. Casey Ryan, holds a commission from headquarters as a prohibition officer. A deputy, it is true,--but commissioned nevertheless. He's just getting back from a very pretty piece of work. A crooked officer named Smiling Lou was arrested last night. He had all kinds of liquor cached away in his house. Casey can tell you sometime how he trapped him.

"Of course, I'm just an amateur mining expert on a vacation, myself." His eyes met Casey's straight. "I wasn't with him when he pulled the deal, but I heard about it afterwards, and I knew he was planning something of the sort when he left camp. How I happened to know about the commission," he added, reaching into his pocket, "is because he left it with me for safe keeping. I'm going to let you look at it-- just in case he's too proud to let it out of his hands once I give it back.

"Now, of course, I'm talking like an old woman and telling all Casey's secrets--and you'll probably see a real Irish fight when he gets in reach of me. But I knew he hadn't told you exactly what he's doing, and--I personally feel that his wife and his best friend are entitled to know as much as his partner knows about him."

The Little Woman nodded absently her thanks. She was holding Casey's commission under the dash-light to read it.

I saw Casey gulp once or twice while he stared across the car at Mack Nolan. He pushed his dusty, black hat forward over one eyebrow and reached into his pocket.

"Aw, hell," he grunted, grinning queerly. "You come around here oncet, Mr. Nolan, where I can git my hands on yuh!"