The Killer by Stewart Edward White
Brower entered the room quickly but very quietly, and at once came to me. His eyes were staring, his eyelids twitched, his hands shook. I recognized the symptoms.
"Have you got it? Have you got it with you?" he whispered, feverishly.
"It's all right. I can fix you up. Untie me first," I replied.
He began to fumble with the knots of my bonds too hastily and impatiently for effectiveness. I was trying to stoop over far enough to see what he was doing when my eye caught the shadow of a moving figure outside. An instant later Tim Westmore, the English groom attached to the Morgan stallion, came cautiously through the door, which he closed behind him. I attempted unobtrusively to warn Brower, but he only looked up, nodded vaguely, and continued his fumbling efforts to free me. Westmore glanced at us all curiously, but went at once to the big windows, which he proceeded to swing shut. Then he came over to us, pushed Brower one side, and most expeditiously untied the knots. I stood up stretching in the luxury of freedom, then turned to perform a like office for Miss Emory. But Brower was by now frantic. He seized my arm and fairly shook me, big as I was, in the urgence of his desire. He was rapidly losing all control and caution.
"Let him have it, sir," urged Westmore in a whisper. "I'll free the young lady."
I gave Brower the hypodermic case. He ran to the wash bowl for water. During the process of preparation he uttered little animal sounds under his breath. When the needle had sunk home he lay back in a chair and closed his eyes.
In the meantime, I had been holding a whispered colloquy with Westmore.
"He sneaked in on me at dark, sir," he told me, "on foot. I don't know how he got in without being seen. They'd have found his tracks anyway in the morning. I don't think he knew quite what he wanted to do. Him and me were old pals, and he wanted to ask me about things. He didn't expect to stay, I fancy. He told me he had left his horse tied a mile or so down the road. Then a while back orders came to close down, air tight. We're used to such orders. Nobody can go out or come in, you understand. And there are guards placed. That made him uneasy. He told me then he was a hop fiend. I've seen them before, and I got uneasy, too. If he came to the worst I might have to tie and gag him. I know how they are."
"Go ahead," I urged. He had stopped to listen.
"I don't like that Cortinez being so handy like out there," he confessed.
"Hooper told him he could sleep. He's not likely to pay attention to us. Miss Emory and I have been talking aloud."
"I hope not. Well, then, Ramon came by and stopped to talk to me for a minute. I had to hide Artie in a box-stall and hope to God he kept quiet. He wasn't as bad as he is now. Ramon told me about you being caught, and went on. After that nothing must do but find you. He thought you might have his dope. He'd have gone into the jaws of hell after it. So I came along to keep him out of mischief."
"What are you going to do now?" asked the girl, who had kicked off her slippers and had been walking a few paces to and fro.
"I don't know, ma'am. We've got to get away."
"You mean me, too? Yes, ma'am! I have stood with the doings of this place as long as I can stand them. Artie has told me some other things. Are you here of your free will, ma'am?" he asked, abruptly.
"No," she replied.
"I suspected as much. I'm through with the whole lot of them."
Brower opened his eyes. He was now quite calm.
"Hooper sold the Morgan stallion," he whispered, smiled sardonically, and closed his eyes again.
"Without telling me a word of it!" added Tim with heat. "He ain't delivered him yet."
"Well, I don't blame you. Now you'd better quietly sneak back to your quarters. There is likely to be trouble before we get through. You, too, Brower. Nobody knows you are here."
Brower opened his eyes again.
"I can get out of this place now I've had me hop," said he, decidedly. "Come on, let's go."
"We'll all go," I agreed; "but let's see what we can find here first. There may be some paper--or something----"
"What do you mean? What sort of papers? Hadn't we better go at once?"
"It is supposed to be well known that the reason Hooper isn't assassinated from behind a bush is because in that case his killers are in turn to assassinate a long list of his enemies. Only nobody is sure: just as nobody is really sure that he has killers at all. You can't get action on an uncertainty."
She nodded. "I can understand that."
"If we could get proof positive it would be no trick at all to raise the country."
"What sort of proof?"
"Well, I mentioned a list. I don't doubt his head man--Ramon, I suppose, the one he'd trust with carrying out such a job--must have a list of some sort. He wouldn't trust to memory."
"And he wouldn't trust it to Ramon until after he was dead!" said the girl with sudden intuition. "If it exists we'll find it here."
She started toward the paper-stuffed desk, but I stopped her.
"More likely the safe," said I.
Tim, who was standing near it, tried the handle.
"It's locked," he whispered.
I fell on my knees and began to fiddle with the dial, of course in vain. Miss Emory, with more practical decision of character, began to run through the innumerable bundles and loose papers in the desk, tossing them aside as they proved unimportant or not germane to the issue. I had not the slightest knowledge of the constructions of safes but whirled the knob hopelessly in one direction or another trying to listen for clicks, as somewhere I had read was the thing to do. As may be imagined, I arrived nowhere. Nor did the girl. We looked at each other in chagrin at last.
"There is nothing here but ranch bills and accounts and business letters," she confessed.
I merely shook my head.
At this moment Brower, whom I had supposed to be sound asleep, opened his eyes.
"Want that safe open?" he asked, drowsily.
He arose, stretched, and took his place beside me on the floor. His head cocked one side, he slowly turned the dials with the tips of fingers I for the first time noticed were long and slim and sensitive. Twice after extended, delicate manipulations he whirled the knob impatiently and took a fresh start. On the proverbial third trial he turned the handle and the door swung open. He arose rather stiffly from his knees, resumed his place in the armchair, and again closed his eyes.
It was a small safe, with few pigeon holes. A number of blue-covered contracts took small time for examination. There were the usual number of mine certificates not valuable enough for a safe deposit, some confidential memoranda and accounts having to do with the ranch.
"Ah, here is something!" I breathed to the eager audience over my shoulder. I held in my hands a heavy manila envelope, sealed, inscribed "Ramon. (To be destroyed unopened.)"
"Evidently we were right: Ramon has the combination and is to be executor," I commented.
I tore open the envelope and extracted from it another of the blue-covered documents.
"It's a copy, unsigned, of that last agreement with your father," I said, after a disappointed glance. "It's worth keeping," and I thrust it inside my shirt.
But this particular pigeon hole proved to be a mine. In it were several more of the same sort of envelope, all sealed, all addressed to Ramon. One was labelled as the Last Will, one as Inventory, and one simply as Directions. This last had a further warning that it was to be opened only by the one addressed. I determined by hasty examination that the first two were only what they purported to be, and turned hopefully to a perusal of the last. It was in Spanish, and dealt at great length with the disposition and management of Hooper's extensive interests. I append a translation of the portion of this remarkable document, having to do with our case.
"These are my directions," it began, "as to the matter of which we have many times spoken together. I have many enemies, and many who think they have cause to wish my death. They are cowards and soft and I do not think they will ever be sure enough to do me harm. I do not fear them. But it may be that one or some of them will find it in their souls to do a deed against me. In that case I shall be content, for neither do I fear the devil. But I shall be content only if you follow my orders. I add here a list of my enemies and of those who have cause to wish me ill. If I am killed, it is probable that some one of these will have done the deed. Therefore they must all die. You must see to it, following them if necessary to the ends of the earth. You will know how; and what means to employ. When all these are gone, then go you to the highest rock on the southerly pinnacle of Cochise's Stronghold. Ten paces northwest is a gray, flat slab. If you lift this slab there will be found a copper box. In the box is the name of a man. You will go to this man and give him the copper box and in return he will give to you one hundred thousand dollars. I know well, my Ramon, that your honesty would not permit you to seek the copper box before the last of my enemies is dead. Nevertheless, that you may admire my recourse, I have made an arrangement. If the gray slab on Cochise's Stronghold is ever disturbed before the whole toll is paid, you will die very suddenly and unpleasantly. I know well that you, my Ramon, would not disturb it; and I hope for your sake that nobody else will do so. It is not likely. No one is fool enough to climb Cochise's Stronghold for pleasure; and this gray slab is one among many."
At this time I did not read carefully the above cheerful document. My Spanish was good enough, but took time in the translating. I dipped into it enough to determine that it was what we wanted, and flipped the pages to come to the list of prospective victims. It covered two sheets, and a glance down the columns showed me that about every permanent inhabitant of the Soda Springs Valley was included. I found my own name in quite fresh ink toward the last.
"This is what we want," I said in satisfaction, rising to my feet. I sketched in a few words the purport of the document.
"Let me see it," said the girl.
I handed it to her. She began to examine carefully the list of names, her face turning paler as she read. Tim Westmore looked anxiously over her shoulder. Suddenly I saw his face congest and his eyes bulge.
"Why! why!" he gasped, "I'm there! What've I ever done, I ask you that? The old----" he choked, at a loss and groping. Then his anger flared up. "I've always served him faithful and done what I was told," he muttered, fiercely. "I'll do him in for this!"
"I am here," observed Miss Emory.
"Yes, and that sot in the chair!" whispered Tim, fiercely.
Again Brower proved he was not asleep by opening one eye.
"Thanks for them kind words," said he.
"We've got to get out of here," stated Tim with conviction.
"That idea just got through your thick British skull?" queried Artie, rousing again.
"I wish we had some way to carry the young lady--she can't walk," said Westmore, paying no attention.
"I have my horse tied out by the lone Joshua-tree," I answered him.
"I'm going to take a look at that Cortinez," said the little Englishman, nodding his satisfaction at my news as to the horse. "I'm not easy about him."
"He'll sleep like a log until morning," Miss Emory reassured me. "I've often stepped right over him where he has been on guard and walked all around the garden."
"Just the same I'm going to take a look," persisted Westmore.
He tiptoed to the door, softly turned the knob and opened it. He found himself face to face with Cortinez.