Wanted: Dead Man can be found in

HE WAS a precise, little man. Not fussy, you must understand, but precise. Exact. Like when he cut the steak he ordered at The Howling Cat, the beanery which catered to the Crow's Nest crew of which I was a member.

He had walked in, a small man in a well-worn though neatly pressed dark suit, and with quick, quiet movements went to the hall tree and deposited on it the derby hat which was part of his costume. Then turning, he surveyed the gang at their dinner hour. I saw him clear his throat, as though he had intentions of saying something. But if he had intended that he changed his mind. Deliberately, he looked about, and though there were several vacant stools, he chose the one next to mine.

"Ah, miss," he stopped Jenny, the only slinger the beanery boasted. He lifted a cautioning finger, the other fingers curling delicately toward his palm. His voice high and slightly nasal, brought attention to our end of the counter. Jenny stopped as though her feet had hit a glue puddle. She turned wide protruding eyes on him.

"Yaas?" her husky voice asked.

"I would like very much to have a steak," the little man said. "A T-bone steak. You may tell the chef that I would appreciate him broiling the steak for a period not to exceed five minutes at the end of which time he will find that the steak will be done to my taste, that is if the flames are not too high. A temperature of approximately eight hundred degrees would be about right."

Jennie had a row of orders slung down the length of her arm. The wide, greyish-blue eyes went even wider, the full, pouting lips pouted a little fuller. And the high, rounded bosom, an attraction which we found irresistible, heaved into more delicious roundness. This was something new in Jennie's life.

"Just sit there, mister," Jennie said. "Don't go away. I'll be right back."

The stranger turned slightly puzzled eyes to me as Jennie continued on her way to her customers.

"Don't go away?" he said, more to himself than to me. "But where could I go in this benighted town?"

"Well," I said, more to make conversation than for any other reason. "You can go to the Rattery."

"The Rattery? What's that?" he asked.

"Another joint. Only more so than this?" I replied.

He had peculiar eyes, I noticed. Where the skin on the rest of his face was set flush to the bone structure so that it looked as if someone had knotted it tightly at the back of his neck, his eyes lay buried in folds of leaden skin behind which peeped the palest blue orbs I'd ever seen. They looked like a pair of fleshy icicles.

"Unless I'm greatly mistaken," he said, "there is under that gloomy exterior an intelligent being. At any rate I'll chance it. Can you tell me . . . ?"

"WE LOOKED away at the same time. Jennie had come back. She stood looking down at the little stranger as if he were a being from another world. He probably was, too. Dead-End Gulch was not the most cosmopolitan town in the country. Matter of fact it was just a copper town which owed its existence to the fact that the Gentry Claim lay a half-mile from its dust-shrouded streets.

"Now would you come again on that order, mister?" Jennie said.

The thin lips of the stranger drew tighter until they were a pale thread of ?esh across the taut skin. I started to avert trouble but he was too quick.

"My dear young lady," he said in the oddest of gentle voices. It made me think of a wire being drawn through a vise. "I don't think it's necessary to repeat my order because I think you hear perfectly well. Therefore you've come back for a bit of amusement at my expense. The proof if which, I'm sure, lies in the grinning countenances of these men watching."

I hid a grin, quick like, behind a palm, and waited for the buxom Jennie to blow her top. It wasn't long in coming.

"Look skinny!" she blazed out. "Any time you think I'd waste time on a sawed-off, pencil-pushing blue-nosey, who comes into a joint like this and orders like he's at the Ritz, and then gives the hasher lip, you're nuts! I don't go for no stuff like that. And if you don't like that—you can go to . . ." to . . ."

"Atta gal, Jennie," a new voice said. Its harsh throatiness could only belong to Bull Benton, a mucker at the Gentry.

He was sweet on the gal, just as the rest of us were, but in a kind of way that brought blo...

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