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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 blood to our faces, so that even when he said the most innocuous of phrases to her, they seemed cloaked in vileness. I knew that suddenly I was hot under the collar. What was more, I suspected that he had put his two cents in just to throw his weight around. He was standing to my right and I could get the sweetly-sour smell of his clothes. Sweat which hadn't been washed away in a long time.

"Go on," he continued. "Tell the little tinhorn what you want. Old Bull'll back you up."

She turned on him like a tigress. "Get away from me, you stinkin' hunk of dirt," she shouted. "I don't need your protection . . . I don't need your help! Just mind your own little business which is feedin' your face."

I whipped my head around as the little man beside me said in his penetrating voice:

"Precisely! She could not have put it better. So why don't you do as the lady suggests and go, 'feed your face.'"

Blood made a mottled mask of the bearded face of the mucker. He could only glare in surprise at the words. Then their import struck home and he started for the little fellow.

THERE'S one thing in common with all muckers. They're usually muscle-bound. All their work is done with their shoulders and legs. Benton was no exception. He moved like a milk-heavy cow.

I whirled on my stool, sending a stiffened arm at the end of which was a very bony elbow, into the midriff of the big guy. He doubled up with a howl of pain. It was long enough for me to get to my feet.

We were about the same height but the resemblance ended. He outweighed me by twenty pounds at least. And he was more muscular in the right places. But he was slow. And that was my ace in the hole, my speed.

I shoved my hand against the top of his head trying to get him off balance. It was a mistake which almost ended the fight before it had more than started. He shot both hands to the one I had on his hair, and jerked down, at the same time butting upward with his head.

I ducked, that is partly; his head caught me a glancing blow along the cheekbone and ripped the flesh as though he had used a knife. It was a good thing I was wearing cleated boots. Even as I went back I kicked sideways, the cleats catching him just below the kneecap and again almost doubling him up.

I heard the sound of Jennie's scream as my blood spattered the counter when I whipped my head to clear it of the pain-fog. Then I could see clearly again. And Bull was charging in. I danced out of the way and as he went past. I clipped him but good. He half-fell against the counter almost knocking it over. Once more there was the high-pitched sound of Jennie's voice. But I heard it only in the back of my mind. Because I was busy trying to wear my knuckles down on Bull's jaw. He grunted every time I hit him, but those thick legs of his kept moving him forward. His arms were high, he was wide-open, and I was slugging the hell out of the guy, but he kept coming in for more. I knew what he wanted. to get me in the circle of those arms. And what they'd do to me once they got me there.

One eye was closed where I hit him with a straight right. But the other was staring with a fearful intensity into mine as he moved forward. I feinted with my left. Instinctively he blinked, and I started a right hook with all the power at my command, straight for the button . . . And fell over one of the spectator's legs. I landed hard enough to knock the breath right out of me.

And Bull was over me, his arms still hooked, his body bent at the waist. I could see he was going to give me the miner's knockout, jump on me with both cleated boots. And he wasn't going to hit me in the belly. It was my face he was after. I saw his tongue come out in curious concentration, saw his pants belly out as the huge leg muscles contracted in their jumping movement, and saw him suddenly topple sideways.

THE little guy just stood there, the broken chair gripped in his hands: he stood there looking down at the knocked out Bull, and turned slowly, deliberately to the rest and said:

"I don't approve of fighting like that."

I guess I ran lightning a close second the way I got to my feet. The place was full of miners. I knew these guys. Their conception of fair play was a long way from the man who had saved me. No fight, no matter how dirty it may seem, brooked interference. Even as I stepped to his side I could hear the growls of the men.

Without turning my head from the circle of sullen, bearded faces which had suddenly formed a ring about us, I took the chair from the little guy. I felt a surge of admiration for him. He was breathing in gentle nasal gasps. And I could see from the corner of my eye that he was as unflustered as if all this was a meeting he was to address.

"Better step aside. Gloomy," somebody said from the rear. I have always noticed that it's always someone from the rear who starts the ball rolling, keeps feeding the flames. The guys in front are the ones who do the battling.

"Okay, boys." I said softly. "Fight's over. Go on back to your eatin'."

"Fight's over for you," the voice said. "But not for nosey Joe. We want him!" "Better do as Gloomy says," Jennie's voice commanded.

She was suddenly the center of the stage. I guess we had all forgotten her in the excitement of the fight. She was unforgettable now. I looked up at her; she stood on top of the counter, a .45 looking a bit incongruous in her hand. yet somehow as if it belonged. And her eyes were narrowed in determination. There was no doubt in my mind that if needs be, she would use the gun. I guess it struck the rest that she would, too.

"If you guys think," she continued, "that I'm goin' to run my size nines down to the ground because your food got cold, you got another think coming. That hash you ordered's gettin' mighty heavy just sittin' around. And I ain't gonna cook up a new mess."

That did it. Jennie was not only the waitress, she was also the cook, and the proprietor of the place. Someone laughed, another said, "Atta gal, Jennie," and another said, "Well nothin's cookin', gang, let's go."

The sigh that I heaved came right out of my boot tops. No wonder it squeaked, the way I laced up my twelve inchers. But the little guy wasn't fazed at all by the excitement. He resumed his seat and turned again to me. It was as if nothing had happened.

"Uh," I began, "uh, thanks for . . ."

"You know," he said, interrupting me, "she is a primitive sort. Simple. But on the whole a rather decent sort. Might even say, splendid, in her own way."

"Jennie? Yeh," I said, falling in to his mood. "A good kid. Came out here on her own, opened up this place and made a go of it through her own perseverance and . . . huh, charm."

"Plural, you mean," he said.

I thought I detected a twinkle in those cold, blue icicles. Of a sudden I realized that I liked this strange little man. Why, I didn't know. Yet I felt that there was something about him which compelled my liking.

I GRINNED down at him. He smiled, a rather shy twisting of the lips. Then the smile was wiped away by an intent, questioning look.

"As I started to say, before the ruckus began, you look like an intelligent sort. I've come to this place to find someone."

I put my hand on his arm, turned my face from him and looked to where Bull had fallen. The big mucker had skipped my mind entirely. I was just in time to see his friend, a ratty individual, called Jimsy, assisting him through the door. Then I turned back to the stranger.

"As I was saying, I came to find someone. A man named Alex Sorensen," the little man said.

Sorensen, Sorensen, I thought. The name was familiar, but . . .

"What about this Sorensen?" I asked.

"I have to deliver something to him," he said. "I heard he works at the Crow's Nest."

"Could be," I said. "Lots of Swedes up there."

"He's not a Swede," the stranger said. "He's a Norwegian."

"What's the difference? He's big, blond and dumb, like the rest of them."

"You work there also?" he asked.

"Yeah. I'm a machine man."

His eyes narrowed in bewilderment. "What's that?" he asked.

"A fancy name for a dynamite tapper," Jennie said. She was standing before us, her right arm loaded with dishes. the topmost two bearing steaks from which smoke faintly curled. She set them before us and a couple of side dishes of potatoes and vegetables, and said:

"I don't know whether that's been broiled like you want it. But it's done like I'd want it. Now don't let me see any of that steak on the plate when I come for your dessert order."

There wasn't any, either. Jennie could cook like she had the gift. The stranger's eyes were alight with pleasure and he exuded a warmth which I imagined was unusual with him, after the first bite.

As I said in the beginning, he was a precise little man. It showed in the way he cut his steak. Not fussy. Precise! The pieces were all of one pattern and size. I imagined he was that way in everything he did. Nothing ever to be left to chance. The kind of man who was meant to be an auditor, or clerk in some lawyer's office. I could see him drawing up briefs, meticulously, briefs like traps, from which there were no loopholes of escape. Everything in its place and a place for everything.

We got back to Sorensen, after our coffee.

"Do you know many of the men who work there?" he asked.

"Well," I said, "there's about six hundred working the three shifts. Copper's in great demand. Of course I've only been here some ten months. And the claim's been going since the year before the war. However . . ."

"Yes," he nudged me with the word.

"I know the night man in the office. I imagine he'd go through the payroll sheets if I asked him."

"He would? Splendid!" the little guy crowed. He had a queer way of accenting words to give them special meaning.

I LOOKED at my watch. Just eight. We had another four hours to go before my shift went on. I got up from the stool and said:

"No use sitting here all night. Doing anything?"

"Why, no. I just got into town a little while ago. Took the bus in from Douglas. A rather rough ride, too. Matter of fact, I'll have to look for a room tonight., But I was so hungry I couldn't resist dining first."

I looked toward the tree on which his derby hung. There was no bag below it. Nor did I remember him having any. He intercepted the look.

"I left it at the bus station," he explained.

"Let's get it." I suggested. "He closes a little after eight. The last autobus comes in then."

The Howling Cat was just around the corner from the station but we had to cross the dark depths of an alley before we hit the corner. The Motor Transports, a trucking outfit had their siding just past the alley's mouth. I was a little ahead of the little guy, sort of leading the way, when all of a sudden a human catapault hit me at the bend in the back of my knees and I fold over like a broken accordion. I think the sound of the shot came a second later.

I was a little shaky when I got to my feet.

The little guy was standing, facing the darkness of the alley. He was sort of bent in a crouch. I noticed that his right hand was held kind of high and close in to his left breast, and that hand was hooked like a claw. Then he turned to me and said:

"Looks like someone was practicing pistol shooting. It was a fortunate thing he stood before the overhead light there."

I followed his pointing finger. The truckers had rigged up an overhead light just above their platform. It was a three hundred watter at least. And I got the little guy's meaning. Whoever had taken the potshot had been outlined. He had seen the shadow in time to my life—or his life. I said as much.

He shrugged his narrow shoulders and said:

"No use worrying about it. They're gone."

I laughed sharply. Who the hell was going after them. Certainly not up that alley.

HE HAD a single bag, a plain leather affair. I lugged it for him up to the Joslyn House, the only hotel in town.

"Well," he said after we had left the room and descended to the lobby, "what do we do now?"

"There isn't much to do, Mr. Beemish," he had registered as Sylvester Beemish. "Except do a bit of drinking, or go back to the Cat, or shoot a little . . ."

"I think I've had enough of shooting for one night," he said.

"We can sit here and talk." I said. "Frankly, I'm curious about that Swede."

"He's a." he began sharply, then less irately, "what's the difference? We've been looking for him. It seems that he has something coming to him . . ."

"We?" . . . I said.

"Oh, I only represent these people," Beemish said. "There is a matter of debt . . . Sorensen is involved, and so I was sent to find him. It has been a long quest, I assure you?"

"Why? Where are you from?" I asked.

"From . . ." he hesitated, then went on, "Chicago."

"Wouldn't it be a hell of a thing if you were chasing the wrong man?"

"It would be," he said. "Though I don't think so."

"You mean you've got a picture of him, a description to go on?" I asked.


"Well," I said. "That makes things simpler. Mind if I see it?"

He slipped his hand inside the breast pocket of his serge suit and pulled out a picture. It was of a thick-shouldered smiling man, whose bland and rather full features showed no distinguishing traits.

"Looks like any of a hundred Swedes," I said.

"My God!" Beemish exclaimed. "Aren't there any others but Swedes who work here?"

"Swedes and Mexs," I said. "This is Arizona. Mines depend on cheap labor. South of the border labor is cheap and men work hard for a few bucks a day. The biggest end of getting copper is a hard, dirty job. And lately they've been stopping new openings. That meant new help, muckers particularly, had to be hired. Mexs, of course. But to get back to the Swedes, somehow they've always been associated with digging of one sort or another. And they make good foremen."

Beemish digested that in silence.

I asked, "Is there more besides the picture? Y'know, identifying labels?"

"Sure," Beemish said, and suddenly reached for my hand, pulling it off the chair side and turning it palm-up. "Sorensen had a . . ." he stopped and his eyes went wide when he saw the crisscross of a dozen lacerations. "What under the sun happened to you?" he asked.

"Some caps went off when rocks fell on one," I said. "That fulminate makes a hell of a show."

"So I see," he said slowly. "Sorensen had a peculiar scar on his palm. I was going to show you what it looked like."

I WAS still holding the photograph in my hand. I looked at it once more and noticed a peculiar graininess in the texture. Beemish must have noticed that I wasn't paying any attention to him, for he sullenly asked:

"What's wrong? Do you recognize something about the photo?"

I shook my head. "N-no," I said. "Or rather, I should say that the photograph strikes a chord of sorts. But we'll soon know. We'd better get to the office before the shift goes on. Payroll'll be made up tonight and he'll have all the sheets there."

Johnny was in the supe's shack. I'd left Beemish outside, explaining to him that it were best he did so. Johnny was alone. I asked him what I wanted and he showed me the sheet. I happened to look through the window and saw Beemish's face through the glass. He was watching us. I smiled grimly at him and nodded my head to show him that I'd gotten what he wanted.

He was impatient, inwardly excited; it showed in the sudden jerky sound of his high voice:

"Well? Did you find out?"

"Yes," I said. "Funny thing, So-ensen's working on my shift and in the same stope. Of course we don't ask anyone their name, but usually somebody knows."

"So what do we do now?" he asked.

"Tell you what," I said. "Come along with me. I've got to get things ready. And by the time I'm through, the rest of the shift will be there."

He was willing.

We hitched a ride on a dump truck going back in number twenty. At the short branch I hopped off, picked up a couple of helmets and lamps for the two of us, got the lamps going, and started down the railbed.

We were about twelve hundred feet in. The air was still okay but I knew that another hundred feet, where the tunnel narrowed and made the turn toward the stope I was working, the air would become heavier, damper.

There was the sound of voices and feet coming toward us. I stopped Beemish and drew him back along some muck sheets along the damp walls. He grunted a sour something about his suit. Then the crew came along. their lamps making glowworm lights in the near distance. They all looked curiously at the neatly dressed Beemish. A couple of them greeted me. Then they were gone.

At the turn we clambered over two trucks lying empty on the tracks and started up the stope. Timbers blocked Beemish but I showed him around them and we came to the stope.

"It's a shame about your suit," I said. "There's a good bit of water seepage here and this muck's heavy with it."

"Must we come here?" he asked bitterly.

"If you want to meet Sorensen?" I said.

"Lead on," he said.

MY HAMMER was lying near the neatly coiled hose. I looked up at the face of the wall I was going to blow. Tom, my helper had done a good job of marking. Fifteen streaks of silver against the grey walls showed where he'd tapped out my markings. I attached the hose to the hammer, let it take a couple of snorts to clear it and turned to Beemish.

He was Standing against the wall watching me. The taut skin of his face looked leaden. and his eyes were slits of glowing ice. His hands hung limply at his sides. He coughed a sigh and said:

"How long before Sorensen gets here?"

I shrugged my shoulders and bent over the cases of Hercules. A fifty foot coil of fuse and four boxes of caps lay beside one of the cases of dynamite. I knelt down and slipped my knife out, began to notch the fuse into two foot lengths.

Suddenly I felt him standing over me.

I turned my head and looked up at him. He was grinning, tight-lipped at me. It was an odd grin, twisted, bitter, vengeful.

"What the hell did you think you'd gain by telling me that Sorensen will be here?" he asked.

I started to stand and that hand, delicate and small as a woman's, went to his shoulder holster with a deadly speed.

"Stay put, Sorensen," he snarled.

I felt cold all of a sudden, and it wasn't because there was a chill in the air. Just the look on his face was enough. It was a death's head looking at me.

"What do you mean, Beemish?" I asked.

"Did you think you were fooling me," he asked, "by dyeing your hair black, losing weight and scarring your hand up that way. I've been on your trail too long. Three years."

I got tired of kneeling so I twisted over and sat, my back against the pile of muck. His hand had come out. There was a short-barreled automatic in his palm. The black hole from which death was going to come at me looked like the finger of doom.

"No," I said slowly, "I didn't think I was fooling you. Nor did you fool me. You look like your brother. The same features, though he was heavier. But not meaner. But tell me, why did you put your two cents in at the restaurant? And back there when we were coming to the bus station?"

"Because I wanted it like this." he said. "And that bullet wasn't meant for either you or me. Someone was just shooting for some reason. But I thought I'd throw your mind off any track it might take leading to suspicion."

I laughed, though I didn't feel like laughing. It's hard to be gay when death is standing beside you. And this guy was a killer.

I NEEDED time. I had to have it. Talk was one way of gaining it. I talked.

"No. You didn't fool me. That photograph. for instance. was a copy. It was made from another picture. The original had a grained finish. Yours showed the grain of the original. Then the business of the scar. You grabbed my hand, just to make sure. No. You didn't fool me too much."

"You almost did though," he said. "The Alex I was told to get and the picture I had didn't stack up to what you looked like. But you gave yourself away."

I wondered how. He continued:

"First by little things. Like your deliberately wanting to forget that Sorensen was a Norwegian. You kept insisting he was a Swede. Then a lifetime of talking like an educated man can't be lost in a few years. But the clincher was . . ." he paused dramatically for a second, then went on, "the fight you had with the big guy. Once a guy's been a fighter, he never forgets how to handle his mitts. That straight right after a double feint . . . only you had it. I've seen you fight. And I suddenly remembered how you'd shift your left leg a trifle just before you'd send that right in."

There was a silence for a few seconds after that.

"So they didn't forget, did they?" I asked.

"You mean about welching on that deal?" Beemish asked. "No. Not till hell freezes over. You were supposed to blow that fight. But no, you got mad because Harris was fighting dirty. So you knocked him out. Well, the big guy lost fifty grand on that fight. He swore to get you."

"He always was a bad loser, that brother of yours, wasn't he?" I said.

I didn't see his hand move. And I'm not the slowest man in the world. But before I could more than shift the smallest bit. the barrel had smacked me along the side of my skull. Stars swung around me and for a second I blacked out. Then his face swam into view again. The grin was wider, now. He was enjoying this. He was his brother's blood.

"God damn you!" he grated. "My! brother fried because of that fight. That's why I'm here. Not because of fifty grand."

My mouth popped open. I felt a sticky wetness slide down the side of my face where the barrel had raked me. His brother dead, in the electric chair!

"Yeah!" he continued. "That's why I wanted you . . . dead! Because you were the reason he died."

"But how?" I asked.

"You skipped town. But your manager stayed. And he and Ned got into an argument. Ned shot him. And was caught, red-handed. They gave him the chair. I vowed I'd get you for that."

I made my move then. I was in a bad way, sitting on my haunches the way I was. But I had to take the chance. He was already on the verge of letting me have it. So I heaved the knife straight at his head, at the same time scrambling erect. The knife caught him over the eyes, getting him off guard for a minute.

But quick as I was, he was faster. That damned gun came up again and smacked me, gashing my mouth from the right corner all the way up the cheek. Worse, it stopped me cold. Through a haze of blood and pain I saw the gun come up. Somehow I knew it was aimed at my head; I ducked, though a thought came to me how futile it was. The gun went off in a flash of red and a sound like thunder. But that shot wasn't meant for me.

I stepped in and hit him. He went back on his heels and I followed fast, my hands clawing for the gun.

I NEVER even saw his foot come up. I only felt it strike me. The whole damned tunnel exploded in a wave of pain as he caught me squarely in the groin. I don't know how many times he hit me from then on. There was a feeling like I was sinking under a warm blanket and everything went dark.

Something struck me in the side. I groaned and opened my eyes. He was standing over me, that damned gun pointed at my middle. I reached in sudden sickness and he laughed at the sound.

"Get up!" he said.

I got to my feet, weaving like I was drunk.

"Now tie that fuse around your middle," he commanded.

I did as he said.

"Now stick one end into one of those sticks of dynamite."

I understood what he wanted then. He was going to make me blow myself to kingdom come.

I broke open the top to one of the sticks and inserted the fuse. Then he made me face the wall. When I was the way he wanted me he stepped to my side, shoved the gun against my back and brought the stick around so that I couldn't reach it. I wondered what he was up to.

"Put your hands behind your back," he said.

When I did, he slipped a piece of rope around my wrists. He had evidently made a loop while I was out because he just slipped it taut. Then he told me to turn around again. Before I knew what he was doing, he went down to his knees and slipped another noose around my ankles. Then he pushed me down. I fell flat on my face, gashing my nose on a piece of razor-edged quartz.

I heard a match sputter, then heard the unforgettable sound of a piece of fuse taking fire.

"In a little while." I heard him say, "that fuse will burn to where it'll fall off. But you won't be able to do anything about it. I'd love to stay and watch you try to take those ropes off. That'd be a race I'd like to see. But I can't. It'll be an accident. And I'm in the clear. Easy, isn't it?"

Once more his foot drew back and came at me. This time he ripped the flesh right off my cheek. It was his farewell to me.

Turning, he scrambled down the slope. I heard his feet move off in the darkness. Then he made the turn in the tunnel. I waited for a few seconds. It came. A shrill scream of fear . . . then silence.

He had fallen into the shaft. It was three hundred feet to the bottom. We had pumped the water out of it when number twenty was flooded. I had fixed his lamp so that the flame would not last more than ten minutes. It had gone out just as he had made the turn. Coming up, I had shielded the pit with my body. He'd never noticed it.

I bit my lips until they bled. Then there was the sputtering sound of the fuse expiring. It takes two things, fire and percussion to make dynamite explode. There was no cap in the stick I'd fixed up.

I was very sick then. But he was dead . . .