Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Death in Disguise" by Anonymous

Death in Disguise

Jed Endicott opened the ranch house door and a bulky figure in a black suit and slouch hat entered, stamping his boots on the floor. "I'm Judge Bland," he said, extending a fleshy palm. "Black as pitch outside. Lost the trail and tumbled into a spring."

"Sit down, Judge." Endicott held out a boot-scraped chair. Bland sat down heavily and Jed turned up the oil lamp.

"I got no reply to my letter," the judge offered, "so I reckon you plan to run the C-Bar ranch. I don't care, understand. Merely offered a thousand out of friendship for your uncle. Sentiment, I guess. Matt Endicott and I were good friends for six years."

"Yes, I'll run the C-Bar," Jed said firmly, then hesitated. "Maybe sentiment on my part, too."

Judge Bland rose to go. "Right foolish of you. It's nothin' but scrub land and you're from the East."

He paused at the door, glanced back at Jed hesitantly. "Trigger Mann's hidin' out in these parts. He's bad medicine. Watch out for him."

"Listen!" Endicott said suddenly. "What was that?" Judge Bland kicked the door open and jerked a pearl handled Colt from his gun belt. "You stand back!" he ordered, as he sprang outside. He had not gone five steps when Endicott heard the thud and thrashing of bodies on the hard ground. A masked man leaped into the doorway. "Get 'em up!" he barked at Jed.

There were three of them. They brought the judge in with a gun at his back.

"What'll we do, Trigger?" one of the bandits asked.

The leader was taller than the rest. "Search 'em," he ordered. One of them slapped his hands along Jed's body, searching for weapons. Trigger turned to the judge. "Yuh asked fer trouble when yuh come lookin' for us. Now yuh'll come along quiet if yuh don't want to get drilled."

Jed's hands were still raised as he edged toward Trigger. Suddenly he hammered down a fist that crushed Trigger Mann's nose. Howling in pain, the bandit lost his grip on the gun and it clattered on the rough-hewn planks.

"Get 'em!" Trigger yelled.

A gun belched and a bullet burned Jed's cheek as he swooped to grab Trigger's fallen gun. Still crouched, Jed snapped two rapid shots and one of the men fell, clutching his shoulder and yelling. Jed saw Judge Bland dive for the floor, climb under the table.

"Back against the wall!" Jed shouted. The outlaw trio lined up slowly, and Jed kicked their guns across the floor.

Jed went to the wall telephone and wound the crank. "Hello, Sheriff," he said. "This is Jed Endicott at the C-Bar. I've got three new boarders for your brick bungalow. Trigger Mann and his pistol packin' polecats."

It was not ten minutes later when the sheriff and two deputies strode up to the door. Ahead of them as they stepped over the threshold was Judge Bland, his arms raised in the air, his face white.

"Maybe I got four boarders," the sheriff growled. "Caught Judge Bland sneakin' off just as we come up here."

"He must have cleared out while I was telephoning you," Jed offered.

"But shucks," the sheriff said, squinting in the light of the lamp, "I thought yuh had Trigger Mann. These here men hang around the saloon doin' odd jobs."

"I figured something was queer about the set-up," Jed replied. "Anyway, the real criminal here is Judge Bland."

Bland puffed and his face swelled in anger. "Why, you!"

"A clever attempt on my life," Jed said calmly. "That mud on your boots isn't mud, Judge, and it isn't crude petroleum like you thought it was. It's road oil. I was having a road fixed and a drum rolled off the truck and burst."

"You can't prove a thing!" Bland stormed, "Sheriff, I won't stand for these insults!"

The sheriff turned to Jed. "What else yuh got to say, Endicott?"

"Just this. In the East I'm a practicing attorney. When I inherited this land from my uncle I took the trouble to search the title at the county courthouse. I found a forged deed from me to Bland on record and a lease from Bland to the United Oil Corporation. Naturally Bland wanted me out of the way."

The sheriff scratched his chin. "And it's only road oil?"

"That was just to give the judge a thrill," said Endicott.

The sheriff grinned. "For a tenderfoot yuh seem right able to use shootin' irons."

"A man needs to be handy with a gun in this territory," Jed chuckled. "I think I'm going to like it a lot out here."

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