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The Cure of Silver Cañon

Max Brand




  Max Brand®

  “Señor Coyote” © 1938 by Frank Munsey Company.

  © renewed 1966 by Jane Faust Easton, John Frederick Faust, and Judith Faust. © 1996 under the title “Slip Liddell” by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi.

  “The Power of Prayer” © 1922 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1950 by Dorothy Faust. © 1996 under the title “The Power of Prayer” by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi.

  “The Cure of Silver Cañon” © 1920 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1948 by Dorothy Faust. © 1996 under the title “The Ghost Wagon” by Jane Faust Easton and Adriana Faust Bianchi.

  Collection © 2016 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material

  E-book published in 2018 by Blackstone Publishing

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Trade e-book ISBN 978-1-4708-6083-7

  Library e-book ISBN 978-1-4708-6082-0


  CIP data for this book is available from the Library of Congress

  Blackstone Publishing

  31 Mistletoe Rd.

  Ashland, OR 97520

  Señor Coyote

  “Señor Coyote” was first published under Frederick Faust’s pen name John Frederick in two installments in Argosy (6/18/38–6/25/38). It was the last Western short novel Faust wrote. It was fitting that the story was published in Argosy since Faust’s earliest Western fiction had been sold to All-Story Weekly and the Argosy owned by the Frank A. Munsey Company, which merged the two magazines 7/24/20. In this story, Frank Pollard, a small-time rancher down on his luck and owing the bank $500, looks to his legendary friend, Slip Liddell, to give him the money before the banker, Foster, forecloses on his ranch. Liddell refuses to pay Foster even for his friend. Pollard threatens to do something about it, and then the bank is robbed and Foster shot. Will Liddell help when his friend is accused of the crime?


  At noon Pollard owed the bank of Henry P. Foster $500, but he owed it with a smile. That night Pollard had lost his smile, the bank had lost a lot of money, and Henry P. Foster had lost his life.

  In the beginning, it was that confident smile of Pollard’s that surprised his friends. They sat in with him at the Royal Saloon and drank the beers he bought for them with his last dollars. The Royal is a comfortable place with ponderous old adobe walls that shut out the heat. The shadows that gather inside it are so thick that even the swing-door cannot let in shafts of light that penetrate to the heart of the place.

  It is one huge room, with a bar that runs most of the length of one wall. To the rear are tables covered with green baize for the poker games. Other, smaller tables string along through the room, leaving plenty of open space for the standees at the bar. Behind the bar stands Chuck Sladin, with a signed photograph of Robert Fitzsimmons hanging above the mirror, and his revolver, as everyone knows, lying on the shelf before him.

  Age has turned Sladin the color of stone and gathered the sunburn of his youth into a few blotchy freckles, but he still looks alert and aloof. He gave most of his attention now to the table where Pollard sat with Soapy Jones, Mark Heath, and Pudge McArthur. Soapy and Pudge had blunt, rubbery faces that would have been useful in a prize ring, but Mark Heath was young and straight and big and handsome enough to be any girl’s hero.

  Pudge McArthur kept saying, between drinks: “What’s the main idea? Five hundred isn’t much, but it’s enough to let old Foster squeeze you out of your place. It’s not the biggest place in the world, but you’ll be damned lonely without that corral to stir up dust in. So what’s the idea of that big grin?”

  “I told old Foster to come up here and get his money at noon,” said Pollard. He stopped smiling and laughed a little. “The money’ll be here, all right. Listen to that banjo going by. I’ll bet that’s Tom Patchen. He’s the banjo-pingingest feller I ever heard. Push the door open and see is it Tom?”

  Somebody pushed the door open, but the banjo player was out of sight. All they could see were the colored streamers that fluttered across the street, because San Jacinto was having a fiesta and when San Jacinto has a fiesta it dolls up right to the guards, because the people down there are fond of their town and they like to dress it up. Any other town that far west would have called the show a rodeo, but San Jacinto called it a fiesta.

  That town felt different and it acted different because it felt that it was different. As a matter of fact the water-lily pads down there in the San Jacinto River are as big as the top of your table, and the flowers are bigger than your head, and the cypresses along the banks go slamming up into the air like thunderheads in the sky. San Jacinto is mostly adobe, weakening at the knees but looking patient enough to stand there a couple more centuries. It has a big plaza with palm trees in the center and a white-faced church with a bell tower, and you can’t tell whether you’re in Old Mexico or New. There are eight and a half Mexicans for every American and eight of the Mexicans go around in sandals and homemade straw hats unraveling at the brim, with corn husks stuck inside the band for cigarette papers and a twist of tobacco for the makings.

  San Jacinto is different, and the men inside the saloon enjoyed that difference while the door was open because, although the fiesta did not open up for a day or two, the people of the town already were tuning up for the show and you could hear guitars and banjos thwanging and mandolins trembling all over the place.

  When the door closed, Soapy Jones, who was helping to spend Pollard’s last dollars, said, “Loosen up, Frank, and tell us where that money is going to walk in from?”

  Mark Heath said, “We ought to find that money for Frank.”

  “Easy, easy,” cautioned Pollard. “No good guy ever has any money in his pocket.”

  This Pollard had a funny, good-natured face with a big Adam’s apple pushed out in front of his throat and a kink in the back of his neck to match it. You could trail him for a year and never see him take a quick step—or hear him speak a quick word, or a mean one.

  “The whole of San Jacinto is gonna feel sick if you get frozen out o’ your place,” Heath went on. “How much would I get for that Jasper of mine, that old cutting horse? How much you think, Pudge?”

  “That Jasper looks kind of bad in the knees,” answered Pudge.

  “He can stand up to the whole branding season with any man’s bronco.”

  “Yeah, but looks is looks.”

  “There ain’t anybody going to sell his horse for me,” put in Pollard, “because there ain’t nobody needs to.”

  The others looked at him with affectionate concern. He took a drink and licked the beer froth off the edge of his lip. Then he said, “Is Slip Liddell good for five hundred bucks?”

  “Hey! You know Slip Liddell?” exclaimed Heath. Because he was younger than the others this news was more exciting to him.

  “Kind of,” said Pollard. He rubbed his red chin-stubble with the back of his hand and chuckled a bit self-consciously. “I kind of know him, all right,” he admitted.

  “Is Slip Liddell coming here?” asked Heath.

  “Right at noon, pronto,” answered Pollard.

  “That’ll raise a crowd,” Heath remarked, and pushed back his chair.

  “You sit right still and keep it to yourself,” cautioned Pollard. “Liddell sure hates a crowd.”

��s how he got his name, the way he can slip through a crowd,” suggested Soapy Jones.

  “No, no. He got that name from the way he can slip the cards when he’s dealing blackjack,” objected Pudge McArthur.

  “That’s wrong,” said Mark Heath. “When he was a kid, he wasn’t as big as he grew afterward and they called him a slip of a kid.”

  “A slip of dynamite, you mean,” Soapy commented, and with his fat lips he sneered enormously and pushed his sombrero back on his head and scratched his bald spot.

  “How come you and Slip are such friends?” asked Heath.

  “Well, it was back there when he wasn’t known so good, when he was doing a tramp royal around the world and driving the shacks crazy on every railroad from Mexico City to Juneau. He’d just begun to play cards and work out systems for roulette and faro and all that, and I saw him in that joint over there in Tucson … Matty White’s place. This kid Slip … he wasn’t any more than a kid, then … he steps up and cracks the roulette and he gets rolled for about fifteen hundred bucks and looks sort of bewildered. Then he kicks the croupier in the shins and turns over a couple of tables and breaks off the roulette wheel right at the floor. When he did that, you could see the apparatus under the boards. There was a brake, all right.

  “A ruction started. Slip Liddell reached into the cash box and took a handful of money, but when he started to leave, there was a lot of trouble. Some of the hombres hanging around Matty’s place were hot stuff in those days. So I made a noise and a bit of trouble by the front entrance and I drew a bit of attention from the strong-arm boys, and the result was that Slip and me both got away. Without more than a few bumps we got away.”

  “I know Matty’s place,” observed Soapy Jones. “Lucky you both didn’t die young.”

  “If I knew Slip that good,” said Pudge dreamily, “I wouldn’t trade it for five thousand in spot cash.”

  “Sure,” agreed Pollard, “and I’ve never touched him before today.”

  “Here’s your banker,” said Soapy.

  Banker Henry P. Foster walked through the swing-door and stood at the bar, resting an important hand on the edge of it. He filled a whiskey glass right to the brim, raised it with a sure hand, tasted it to make sure what he was getting, and poured it down his throat. After that he lit a cigar, gathered it back in a big pucker in the corner of his mouth, and looked around the room. When he saw the men at the table, he gave one nod to all of them. He said in his sharp, clear voice, “Well, Pollard?”

  “It ain’t noon yet,” said Pollard. He added, under his breath, “The old beagle.”

  He had no particular hatred for beagles. He hardly knew what they were. The word simply came to him.

  “Suppose that Slip Liddell didn’t come?” suggested Pudge McArthur.

  “He never disappoints you,” Pollard answered, growing nervous.

  “Suppose he comes but don’t have that much money?” said Mark Heath.

  “Yeah, and whoever heard of him not having that much?” asked Pollard.

  “There was the time he was down in Mexico and they slammed him into the hoosegow,” began young Mark Heath.

  “Yeah, that was a lot of baloney,” said Soapy Jones.

  Then a tall young man pushed open the door with his left hand and stepped inside. He stepped quickly out of the brilliance of the doorway and into the shadow of the wall.

  “By Satan … it is Slip,” whispered Mark Heath.


  The cut of him was like the cut of fifty thousand other cowhands and yet there was a difference that stopped the eye. Mark Heath put it in a second whisper as he stared, saying, “Look at how he’s set up like nobody’s business.”

  He was not as big and as strong as he appeared to the excited eye of young Mark Heath, but there was plenty of him at that. You’ve seen his like in the picture of a football team. He was what is called a good-looking mug. There was nothing beautiful about him. He was just a mug. But if he came into your house, your wife and daughter would begin being foolish right away. He always wore a faint smile as though he had seen something pleasant and was still enjoying it.

  As he came on across the room, it was plain that he had ridden those chaps through a lot of scratchy brush but somehow he didn’t look as though he had wrangled many horses or roped many cows recently. And as a matter of fact he had not. Except when he changed location, the toughest work he did was wrangling a pack of cards. The reason he wore that single mark of deep thought between the eyes was that he never played suckers. He preferred professionals, perhaps because he had scruples about taking the money of the innocents, but even more because the professionals carried more hard cash in their wallets and would put it on the line.

  Pollard was so glad to see him that he strode across the room and grasped his hand and started steering him toward the bar. Jimmy Liddell would not have that. He said, “But I want to meet your friends, Frank.”

  That pleased the men at the table. It pleased Mark Heath particularly. He gave Liddell’s hand a tremendous grasp when it came his turn. Afterward, Liddell moved the fingers of his right hand one by one and made a pretended face of pain. “Your friends are too strong, Frank,” he said, but he smiled at Heath and wrinkled his nose in a most friendly way. Then he ordered drinks. He was not loud about it, but suddenly it became almost rude for anyone else to order a drink.

  Pollard could hold in no longer. He broke out, “Slip, I’ve got to have five hundred dollars.”

  “Now?” asked Jimmy Liddell.

  “Yeah. Right this minute,” said Pollard.

  “All right.” Liddell nodded, and reached into the inside pocket of his coat. Pollard lay back in his chair and looked around him triumphantly.

  The other men wore constrained smiles. They were wishing that they could have a chance to do a thing like that but they were wondering if they could be so free.

  Pollard stood up as Liddell, under the shelter of his expert hands, counted out bills.

  “I’m gonna lay it on the bar right under his nose and then I’m gonna tell him to go to blazes and how to get there,” said Pollard. “The blasted old shark-skin, I’m gonna tell him what I think.”

  “Tell who?” asked Liddell, lifting his head.

  “That square-faced old son of a bitch at the bar. Look at him,” said Pollard.

  “I saw him when I came in,” answered Liddell, without turning, and put the money back in his billfold, and the leather fold back in his pocket.

  “What’s the matter?” asked Pollard.

  “I have five hundred for you, not for your chum over there,” answered Liddell.

  “Yeah, but listen … Slip, I owe him the money … he’ll foreclose on me,” explained Pollard.

  He was a big, bony man as he bent over, arguing with both hands. Making everything clear with the flat of his palms, he seemed to have an extra joint in the middle of his back. Liddell studied him with clear, undisturbed eyes.

  Pollard broke out into a sweat. “It’s my house and my land, Slip!” he pleaded suddenly. “It’s … it’s everything. I got a hundred acres. I got a mule I harness up with my horse and plow the bottom land by the creek. I got some cows. I got a white man’s chance the first time in my life.”

  “I told you a year ago that you were a cowpuncher, not a rancher,” said Liddell. “You’ve lost five hundred in a year. You’d lose five hundred more the next year.”

  The other men leaned forward in their chairs, shifting their glances from face to face, hungry. This was news. This was a story for anybody. Their sympathy was for Pollard, and with angry bewilderment they eyed Slip Liddell.

  Pollard said, “I had a flock of bad luck. You don’t understand. I had three of the fattest steers you ever saw, and when that blizzard came in January, they drifted against the fence line and there they were in the morning. You don’t understand, Slip.”

His voice was hoarse.

  “Yeah, I understand,” answered Liddell. “Sit down and have a drink.”

  Pollard sat down, and just then big Henry P. Foster said loudly, “Well, Pollard? It’s past noon, you know.”

  He was smiling a little as he spoke. There was even a sort of smile in his voice and you could tell how glad he was. Pollard only stared at him and then tossed off his drink.

  “I’ll send my men up in the morning,” said Foster. “Just see that nothing is removed.”

  Pollard jumped up. He shouted out, “You’re worse than a coyote! You’re worse than a buzzard! You eat rottener meat!”

  Foster turned a varnished crimson. He turned from the bar and came at Pollard like a real fighting man, but then his eyes fell on Liddell and he stopped. He kept looking at Liddell as he made a backward step or two, and then went suddenly out of the swing-door into the street.

  “It’s fun for him,” said Pollard. “Putting me out of my house is fun for him. I hope he burns and the money in his pockets. I hope he dies and is damned. I’d like to have the finishing of him.”

  Liddell said, “You mean some of that for me, don’t you?”

  Pollard fell wearily into his chair. His head dropped back and he looked sick.

  “It was a swell sort of a little dump,” he said. “I had a lot of swell times in it. I’d rather hear its windmill clanking and the water going plump into the tank than any other music that I ever heard. I’d rather be buried under those cottonwoods than in a churchyard.”

  Mark Heath remarked, “There oughta be something done about a buzzard like Henry P. Foster. Somebody oughta take him up in a big way.”

  That was when Pollard said what everybody remembered afterward. He said: “Yeah, I’m a poor sap. I only talk. I don’t do anything about it. But I gotta mind …”

  * * * * *

  Up to about 3:30 p.m. you always can get a check cashed in the First National at San Jacinto. The closing hour is 3:00 but there is half an hour of leeway and a lot of people are sure to come in at the last minute. It makes them feel that they are being favored. As a matter of fact there were four clients near the cash window at 3:20 that afternoon when a tall man, masked to the eyes, came in with a pair of Colt revolvers and held up the place.