Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Odds Against the Outlaws" by Bert N. Dean

Odds Against the Outlaws
Bert N. Dean

One Eye Clausen and Long Tom Gorman reined their horses to a slow canter as they cut off from the prairie and headed down the dusty road leading to the small cowtown.

"Just as well if none of the stay-at-homes sees us," One Eye muttered. "Floyd may put up a fight, an' we don't want any interference."

"Don't worry," Long Tom chuckled. "We picked the right day to stick up Floyd. Every man, woman and kid who kin ride, walk or hobble has gone out tuh the Fanned A spread tuh watch the ropin' contest. Floyd ain't out there because the Fanned A boss has been tryin' tuh squeeze him out of the cattle buyin' business."

They rode down the main street of the deserted town and slip hitched their horses to a rail outside a saloon. Floyd's office was three doors down the street. They slinked toward it with their right hands hovering over their belted guns.

Floyd heard the screen door squeak and swung around in his swivel chair as the gunmen came in. Floyd knew by their hard smiles what they'd come for even before their six-guns cleared leather.

A muscle twitched along Floyd's jaw, but otherwise his lean, tanned face betrayed no emotion. Floyd had peered into the muzzles of bandit guns before. In his years on the range he had killed three outlaws and taken alive seven more. He hadn't been afraid then and not an ounce of fear stirred within him now.

Long Tom Gorman pointed his Colt toward a fair sized safe that stood on iron casters on the pine plank floor by the side wall. "Open it!" Gorman growled. "We know you got cash waitin' fer the steers Andy Howe's boys is drivin' up the old trail."

But Floyd shook his head. "Sorry, gents, but I don't know the combination. All the threats in the world wouldn't make it possible fer me to open that steel box."

One Eye spat an oath as he stepped menacingly toward the cattle buyer. "Git up," he snarled, "an' stand with yore back tuh the wall. I'm gonna go through yore desk tuh see if yuh got the combination written down on any of yore books or papers."

Floyd obeyed the order, but when he had backed against the wall he said: "Save yore time, gents. If I'd scribbled down the combination anywheres, I'd tell yuh rather than let yuh mess up my papers."

Long Tom Gorman's eyes shifted nervously from the door to the cattle buyer. Was Floyd stalling for time, knowing that someone would be coming along and see his predicament? Gorman was standing at an angle so that he could see through the screen door and up the street some fifty yards. But nothing moved and no sound reached his ears so he felt certain Floyd couldn't expect any immediate assistance.

One Eye shuffled hurriedly through the paper-choked desk, tossing bills, invoices and letters aside in his haste to find a slip with the safe's combination. Finally he swung away from the futile task and threw a bitter scowl at Floyd. "Git down by that safe an' start spinnin' the knob! Pronto!" One Eye lowered the sights of his Colt so the gun was aimed directly at Floyd's heart.

Floyd shuffled slowly across the small room, turned with his back toward the safe to face the outlaws. "It's no use," he whispered huskily. "I don't know the combination, an' there's nothin' I kin do short of dynamitin' to git that door open."

"Yo're lyin'!" Long Tom snarled, thumbing the hammer of his colt. "I'm gonna start countin'. If yuh ain't got the door open by the time I reach twenty, you're gittin' a bullet in the head! One — two — three — four — five —"

Floyd held up a hand and cut in: "Wait a minute. Figger this out fer yoreselves. What's the sense of killin' me if yuh ain't gonna get a cent by it? Yuh'll have every law badge in Texas on yore trail if the folks come back from the ropin' contest an' find me lyin' here dead. But if yuh walk out now an' hit the trail, I won't even bother tuh tell no one yuh wuz here. No point in my sayin' nuthin' about yuh. Small chance either of yuh will ever show yore faces 'round here again."

Long Tom and One Eye exchanged questioning glances. Then a sly smile crept over Long Tom's gaut face. "I got a couple of sticks of dynamite in my saddle bag," he said. "The townfolks won't start driftin' back fer another hour. But we won't blast the box here. We'll take it across the ford an' through the cottonwoods 'bout two miles from the drive trail."

One Eye rubbed his jaw as he glanced back at the safe. "How we gonna lug that?" he demanded. "Must weigh 'bout three hundred pounds."

"We passed a big stable down the street. I'll go an' hitch up a team to a buckboard. Nobody's around tuh stop me. You jes' keep yore good eye peeled on Floyd."

About twenty minutes the clatter of hoofs and the squeek of dry axles drifted through the screen door of Floyd's office. Floyd dropped his right hand to the top of the safe and rubbed the black enameled metal. "This office will sure look empty when the safe is gone," he told One Eye Clausen. "I'm gonna miss it."

"Yo're an onery cuss!" One Eye growled. "Ten tuh one yuh got the cash covered by insurance. Wouldn't of hurt yuh none tuh opened the safe an' let us have it."

Floyd shook his head. "That's where yo're wrong, mister. I don't carry insurance. The rates are too high hereabouts. It's cheaper tuh gamble on the chance that yore kind won't pull such a robbery. If the townfolks hadn't gone out to the ropin' contests today —"

Long Tom's appearance in the door cut Floyd short. "I'll keep him covered," Long Tom said, "while you hog-tie him good. Make it fast. We've got to git rollin'."

One Eye made quick work of tying Floyd to a chair, and then the two bandits started throwing their weight against the safe. The iron casters squeeled in protest as they jockeyed the safe toward the door. Long Tom ran out to the buckboard and brought two planks which he laid from the threshold to the edge of the street. They let the safe slip down the planks, then by using the timbers as levers, they lifted the safe onto the buckboard. Within seconds the wagon moved out of Floyd's vision and the street beyond the screen door was again empty.

Floyd strained at his bonds, but One Eye had done a good job. It might be another hour before people were moving on the street again, and someone noticed Floyd's predicament. Floyd sighed heavily and settled himself to wait.

But no one showed up some three quarters of an hour later when Floyd heard a distant explosion. The pair had blasted his safe, and Floyd wondered if the dynamite had torn it open. Whether they had succeeded or not, Floyd knew for sure that the bandits wouldn't linger long in the vicinity because the men of the town were probably heading back from the Fanned A spread by now.

Ben Curtis, the sheriff, came in a few moments later and as he slashed the ropes that held the cattle buyer he was given a brief account of the robbery. But Floyd stopped him when he started to go out and make up a posse.

"No great loss," Floyd grinned, pulling a thick roll of bills from the leg of his right boot. "Jake Eames always said he'd come back an' cart off that safe some day, but it's been standing here ever since I rented this office from him. Jake used to cuss every time he mentioned there was nuthin' inside the safe. Nuthin', that is, except a slip of paper with the combination written on it!"