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DOBLE PAYS A VISIT
"Hello, the Jackpot!"
Out of the night the call came to the men at the bunkhouse.
Bob looked at his companion and grinned. "Seems to me I recognize that melojious voice."
A man stepped from the gloom with masterful, arrogant strides.
"'Lo, Hart," he said. "Can you lend me a reamer?"
Bob knew he had come to spy out the land and not to borrow tools.
"Don't seem to me we've hardly got any reamers to spare, Dug," drawled the young man sitting on the porch floor. "What's the trouble? Got a kink in yore casin'?"
"Not so you could notice it, but you never can tell when you're goin' to run into bad luck, can you?" He sat down on the porch and took a cigar from his vest pocket. "What with losin' tools and one thing an' 'nother, this oil game sure is hell. By the way, how's yore fishin' job comin' on?"
"Fine, Dug. We ain't hooked our big fish yet, but we're hopeful."
Dave was sitting in the shadow. Doble nodded carelessly to him without recognition. It was characteristic of his audacity that Dug had walked over impudently to spy out the camp of the enemy. Bob knew why he had come, and he knew that Bob knew. Yet both ignored the fact that he was not welcome.
"I've known fellows angle a right long time for a trout and not catch him," said Doble, stretching his long legs comfortably.
"Yes," agreed Bob. "Wish I could hire you to throw a monkey wrench in that engine over there. Its chuggin' keeps me awake."
"I'll bet it does. Well, young fellow, you can't hire me or anybody else to stop it," retorted Doble, an edge to his voice.
"Well, I just mentioned it," murmured Hart. "I don't aim to rile yore feelin's. We'll talk of somethin' else.... Hope you enjoyed that reunion this week with yore old friend, absent far, but dear to memory ever."
"Referrin' to?" demanded Doble with sharp hostility.
"Why, Ad Miller, Dug."
"Is he a friend of mine?"
"Not that I ever heard tell of."
"Glad of that. You won't miss him now he's lit out."
"Oh, he's lit out, has he?"
"A li'l bird whispered to me he had."
"This evenin', I understand."
"Where'd he go?"
"He didn't leave any address. Called away on sudden business."
"Did he mention the business?"
"Not to me." Bob turned to his friend. "Did he say anything to you about that, Dave?"
In the silence one might have heard a watch tick, Doble leaned forward, his body rigid, danger written large in his burning eyes and clenched fist.
"So you're back," he said at last in a low, harsh voice.
"It would 'a' pleased me if they had put a rope round yore neck, Mr. Convict."
Dave made no comment. Nobody could have guessed from his stillness how fierce was the blood pressure at his temples.
"It's a difference of opinion makes horse-races, Dug," said Bob lightly.
The big ex-foreman rose snarling. "For half a cent I'd gun you here and now like you did George."
Sanders looked at him steadily, his hands hanging loosely by his sides.
"I wouldn't try that, Dug," warned Hart. "Dave ain't armed, but I am. My hand's on my six-shooter right this minute. Don't make a mistake."
The ex-foreman glared at him. Doble was a strong, reckless devil of a fellow who feared neither God nor man. A primeval savagery burned in his blood, but like most "bad" men he had that vein of caution in his make-up which seeks to find its victim at disadvantage. He knew Hart too well to doubt his word. One cannot ride the range with a man year in, year out, without knowing whether the iron is in his arteries.
"Declarin' yoreself in on this, are you?" he demanded ominously, showing his teeth.
"I've always been in on it, Dug. Took a hand at the first deal, the day of the race. If you're lookin' for trouble with Dave, you'll find it goes double."
"Not able to play his own hand, eh?"
"Not when you've got a six-shooter and he hasn't. Not after he has just been wounded by another gunman he cleaned up with his bare hands. You and yore friends are lookin' for things too easy."
"Easy, hell! I'll fight you and him both, with or without guns. Any time. Any place."
Doble backed away till his figure grew vague in the darkness. Came the crack of a revolver. A bullet tore a splinter from the wall of the shack in front of which Dave was standing. A jeering laugh floated to the two men, carried on the light night breeze.
Bob whipped out his revolver, but he did not fire. He and his friend slipped quietly to the far end of the house and found shelter round the corner.
"Ain't that like Dug, the damned double-crosser?" whispered Bob. "I reckon he didn't try awful hard to hit you. Just sent his compliments kinda casual to show good-will."
"I reckon he didn't try very hard to miss me either," said Dave dryly. "The bullet came within a foot of my head."
"He's one bad citizen, if you ask me," admitted Hart, without reluctance. "Know how he came to break with the old man? He had the nerve to start beauin' Miss Joyce. She wouldn't have it a minute. He stayed right with it--tried to ride over her. Crawford took a hand and kicked him out. Since then Dug has been one bitter enemy of the old man."
"Then Crawford had better look out. If Doble isn't a killer, I've never met one."
"I've got a fool notion that he ain't aimin' to kill him; that maybe he wants to help Steelman bust him so as he can turn the screws on him and get Miss Joyce. Dug must 'a' been makin' money fast in Brad's company. He's on the inside."
Dave made no comment.
"I expect you was some surprised when I told Dug who was roostin' on the step so clost to him," Hart went on. "Well, I had a reason. He was due to find it out anyhow in about a minute, so I thought I'd let him know we wasn't tryin' to keep him from knowin' who his neighbor was; also that I was good and ready for him if he got red-haided like Miller done."
"I understood, Bob," said his friend quietly.
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