Chapter XXXIX
 

One afternoon Keith walked down Kearney Street deep in discussion of an important Federal case with his friend, Billy Richardson, the United States Marshal. Although both just and an official, Richardson was popular with all classes save those with whom his duty brought him into conflict. They found their way deliberately blocked, and came out of the absorption of their discussion to recognize before them Charles Cora, an Italian gambler of considerable prominence and wealth. Cora was a small, dark man, nervously built, dressed neatly and carefully in the height of gambler fashion. He seemed to be terribly excited, and at once launched a stream of oaths at Richardson.

"What's the matter with you, Charley?" asked the latter, as soon as he had recovered from his surprise.

Cora, evidently too incoherent to speak, leaped at the marshal, his fist drawn back. Keith seized him around the body, holding his arms to his sides.

"Hold on; take it easy!" he panted. "What's up, anyway?"

Cora, struggling violently, gritted out:

"He knows damn well what's up."

"I'll swear I don't!" denied Richardson.

"Then what do you mean telling every one that my Belle insulted your wife last night at the opera house?" demanded Cora, ceasing to struggle.

"Belle?" repeated Richardson equably. "I don't know what you're talking about. Be reasonable. Explain yourself."

"Yes, I got it straight," insisted the Italian. "Your wife says it insults her to sit next to my Belle, and you go everywhere telling it. What right you got to do that? Answer me that!"

"Now look here," said Richardson. "I was with Jim Scott all last evening. My wife wasn't with me. If you don't believe me, go ask Scotty."

Cora had apparently cooled off, so Keith released him. He shook his head, grumbling, only half convinced. After a moment he moved away. The two men watched him go, half vexed, half amused.

"He's crazy as a pup about that woman," observed Richardson.

"Who is she?" inquired Keith.

"Why, Belle--you know Belle, the one who keeps that, crib up your way."

"That woman!" marvelled Keith.

He spent the afternoon in court and in his office. About half-past six, on his way home, he saw Cora and Richardson come out of the Blue Wing saloon together. They were talking earnestly, and stopped in the square of light from the window. Richardson was explaining, and Cora was listening sullenly. As Keith passed them he heard, the marshal say, "Well, is it all right?" and Cora reply, "Yes." Something caused him to look back after he had gone a dozen yards. He saw Cora suddenly seize Richardson's collar with his left hand, at the same time drawing a derringer with his right.

"What are you going to do?" cried Richardson loudly and steadily, without straggling, "Don't shoot; I am unarmed!"

Without reply Cora fired into his breast. The marshal wilted, but with iron strength Cora continued for several moments to hold up his victim by the collar. Then he let the body drop, and moved away at a fast walk, the derringer still in his right hand.

Keith ran to his friend, and with others carried him into a nearby drug store. The sound of the shot almost immediately brought out a crowd. Keith, bending over the body of the murdered man, could see them pressing about the windows outside, their faces showing white from the lamps in the drug- store window or fading into the darkness beyond. They crowded through the doorway until driven out again by some of the cooler heads. Conjectures and inquiries flew thick. All sorts of reports were current of the details, but the crowd had the main facts--Cora had shot Richardson, Richardson was dead, Cora had been taken to jail.

"Then he's safe!" they sneered savagely.

Men had been shot on the streets before, many men, some of them as well known and liked as Richardson; but not after public sentiment had been aroused as the Bulletin had aroused it. The crowds continued to gather. Several men made violent street-corner speeches. There was some talk of lynching. A storm of yes and no burst forth when the question was put. Bells rang. A great mob surged to the jail, were firmly met by a strong armed guard, and fell back muttering.

"Who will be the next victim?" men asked. "What a farce!" cried some, in deep disgust. "Why, the jailer is Cora's especial crony!" stated others, who seemed to know. "If the jury is packed, hang the jury!" advised certain far-seeing ones. A grim, quiet, black-bearded man expressed the undercurrent of opinion: "Mark my words," said he, "if Charles Cora is left for trial, he will be let loose on the community to assassinate his third victim!" It seemed that Cora had been involved in a previous shooting scrape. But to swing a mob to action there must be determined men at its head, and this mob had no leaders. Sam Brannan started to say something in his coarse, roaring voice, and was promptly arrested for inciting a riot. Nobody cared enough seriously for the redoubtable Sam to object to this. The situation was ticklish, but the police handled it tactfully for once, opposing only a passive opposition, leaving the crowd to fritter its energies in purposeless cursing, surging to and fro, and in harmless threats.

Keith did not join the throngs on the streets. Having determined that Richardson was dead, he accompanied the body home. He was deeply stirred, not only by the circumstances of the murder, but also by the scene at which he had to assist when the news must be broken to Mrs. Richardson. From the house he went directly to King's residence, where he was told that the editor had gone downtown. After considerable search and inquiry he at last got sight of his man standing atop a wooden awning overlooking the Plaza in front of the jail. King nodded to him as he climbed out of the second-story window to take his position at the newspaper man's side.

The square was a wild sight, filled, packed with men, a crowd of men tossed in constant motion. A mumbling growl came from them continuously, and occasionally a shout. Many hands were upraised, and in some of them were weapons. Opposite, the blank front of the jail.

King's eyes were shining with interest and a certain quiet exultation, but he seemed not at all excited.

"Will they storm the jail?" asked Keith.

King shook his head.

"No, these people will do nothing. But they show the spirit of the time. All it needs now is organization, cool, deliberate organization--to- morrow."

"That's just what I've hunted you out to talk about," said Keith earnestly. "There is much talk of a Vigilance Committee. As you say, all it needs is the call. That means lawlessness, bloodshed."

"Conditions at present are intolerable," said King briefly.

"I agree with you," replied Keith. King stared. "But in this case I assure you the law will do its duty. It is an absolutely open and shut case. Acquittal is impossible. Why, I myself was witness of the affair."

King looked skeptical.

"Hundreds of such cases have been acquitted, or the indictment quashed."

"But this is entirely different. In the first place, the case will come before Judge Norton and Judge Hazen, both of whom you will acknowledge are honest. In the second place, this case will be in my hands as Assistant District Attorney. I myself shall do the prosecuting, and I promise you on my honour that every effort will be made for a deserved and speedy conviction. I acknowledge justice has sometimes gone wrong in the past; but that has not been the fault of the law, but of the administration of the law. If you have the least confidence in Judge Norton and Judge Hazen, and if you can be brought to believe me, you will see that this one case of all cases should not be taken from the constituted authorities or made the basis for a movement outside the law."

"Well?" said King, half convinced.

"The Bulletin has the greatest influence with these people. Use it. Give the law, the honest law, a chance. Do not get back of any Vigilante movement. In that way, I am convinced, you will be of the greatest public service."

Next day the Bulletin came out vigorously counselling dependence on the law, expressing confidence in the integrity of Hazen and Norton, and enunciating a personal belief that the day had passed when it would be necessary to resort to arbitrary measures. The mob's anger had possessed vitality enough to keep it up all night; but the attitude of the Bulletin, backed by responsible men like Ward, Coleman, Hossiros, Bluxome, and others, averted a crisis. Nevertheless, King added a paragraph of warning:

Hang Billy Mulligan! That's the word! If Mr. Sheriff Scannell does not remove Billy Mulligan from his present post as keeper of the county jail, and Mulligan lets Cora escape, hang Billy Mulligan, and if necessary to get rid of the sheriff, hang him--hang the sheriff!