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Gunman's Rendezvous

Max Brand

  First Skyhorse Publishing edition published 2015 by arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency

  Copyright © 2010 by Golden West Literary Agency.

  “Gunman’s Bluff” by Max Brand first appeared in Star Western (4/34). Copyright © 1934 by Popular Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1962 by the Estate of Frederick Faust. Copyright © 2010 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. “Torridon” by Peter Henry Morland first appeared as “Coward of the Clan” in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (5/19/28). Copyright © 1928 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1955 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2010 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their co-operation. “Gunman’s Rendezvous” by Max Brand first appeared in Star Western (11/34). Copyright © 1934 by Popular Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1962 by the Estate of Frederick Faust. Copyright © 2010 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material.

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  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-62087-795-1

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-62914-974-5

  Printed in the United States of America

  Table of Contents

  Gunman’s Bluff


  Gunman’s Rendezvous

  About the Author

  Gunman’s Bluff

  In the mid-thirties Frederick Faust abandoned what had been his primary story market, Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, due to decreases in the rate he was paid per word. While many of his stories still appeared in pulp magazines, including Argosy and Detective Fiction Weekly, his market also expanded to the slicks, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, and Collier’s. “Gunman’s Bluff” was his first story ever to appear in the pulp, Star Western. It was published under Faust’s Max Brand byline in the issue dated April, 1934. His original title for it was “Yellow Dog,” but since he had already published a story with that title, the magazine’s title has been retained for its appearance here.


  Of what good is a ham-strung horse, or a blind dog, or a hawk with clipped wings? And when the right hand of a gunfighter has lost its cunning—the right hand, that almost thinking brain—freedom and hope are gone from the victim.

  That was what Dr. Walter Lindus was thinking as he examined the big fellow who had come in half an hour before and asked, a little uneasily, for treatment. He sank his fingertips into the strands of muscle that sprang from the base of the man’s neck and ran in broad elastic bands over the shoulder. At the point, just above the shoulder blades, where the muscles curved from back to front like the grip of a many-fingered hand, the doctor encountered the gristle of scar tissue and felt the flesh shrink from his grasp.

  He looked hastily up into the brown face of his patient and saw that the smile persisted on the lips of this young man, but that the eyes had grown suddenly stern. The patient had stripped to the waist for the examination, and the pain had been sufficient to make his belly muscles pull in and the chest expand a little.

  “How did you get this?” asked the doctor.

  “Hunting accident,” said the patient.

  “Rifle bullet?”


  “The other fellow was careless, eh?”


  “Those things happen. I would have said, though, that the other fellow had been careless with a Forty-Five-caliber Colt. Eh?”

  The youth said nothing. His calm blue eyes moved without meaning across the face of Dr. Lindus, then journeyed through the window and over the roofs of the houses of the town, through the shimmer of the heat waves that made the mountains tremble in the distance.

  Dr. Lindus ran exploring fingertips through the lower muscles of the arm. Even above the elbow they were firm; below it they twisted into a beautiful tangle of whipcord. Lindus stepped back. In addition to the scar in the right shoulder he saw a long white streak over the left ribs.

  “Another hunting accident?” he asked, pointing.

  “Had a fall from a pitching bronc’ and hit a rock,” said the patient.

  The doctor walked around his man. Across the left shoulder blade was a white zigzag, inches long. It was a very old wound.

  “And this . . . another fall from a horse?” he asked, touching the place.

  “I suppose so.”

  “Out of sight, out of mind, eh?” asked the doctor.

  “That’s it.”

  The doctor permitted himself to smile. He faced the man again.

  “Mister Jones,” he said, “does this right arm feel a bit numb?”


  “Tingling, now and then, as though the muscles were asleep, eh?”


  “Anything else you can say about it?”

  “No. It’s just the damned left-handed feeling that’s come into it. I’ve got two left hands. And that’s no good.”

  “Particularly for you, Mister Jones. I mean . . . for a fellow who runs into so many accidents?”

  Mr. Jones said nothing.

  From the beginning of the interview he had said little. He seemed to be one who looked first and spoke afterward. Now his blue eyes turned almost gray with light as they thrust into the mind of Dr. Lindus.

  “There’s a big nerve up here,” said the doctor, indicating on his own arm. “It branches out here. That nerve has been injured.”

  “How long will the right hand be crippled?” asked Jones.

  “I don’t know,” said Lindus slowly. He saw that he had struck a heavy blow, but the lips of Mr. Jones continued to smile. The shock appeared in his eyes, only.

  “You don’t know how long it will take to fix me up?”

  “Sorry, my friend. I really can’t tell.”

  “Perhaps you mean, Doctor, that I’ll never get that arm back in shape?”

  The doctor drew in a long and very soft breath. Out here on the range he was accustomed to handling big, powerful men, but he had never seen a specimen like this youth, strong as a bull but looking swift as a deer, also. The head was magnificent, too, and it was carried with the lofty pride of an unbeaten champion. That was why the doctor had to pause a moment before he said: “No, I don’t mean that. The arm may get all right in time. It ought to improve, anyway. Give it a lot of massaging, though. Up here . . . dig into these muscles . . . dig right in and work on them every day. It’ll hurt . . . but it ought to do you good. Patience and time . . . they work wonders.”

  “Instead of getting better, it may get worse?” asked Jones.

  “Why, no. I hope not. Of course it won’t get worse . . . I hope.”

; “You think it’s a bust,” insisted Jones. “Go on and let me have it between the eyes.”

  The doctor was sweating profusely. “Injured nerves are serious things. They have to be cared for, worked over. And . . . even then one cannot always tell.” He put his hand on the big, bare arm of the youth and looked at the stone-white of his face. “By God, old fellow, I’m sorry,” said the doctor.

  “That’s all right,” said the young man who had said his name was Jones.

  “If I were you,” continued the doctor, hastily, because he was moved to the heart by the cheerful calm of his patient, “if I were you, I would start at once turning my left hand into a right hand. I’d start in spending hours every day in attempting to make the brain hitch up a straighter wire to the left hand. I’d keep on working with the right, too. I’d never give up hope. But I’d even start trying to write left-handed. It can be learned.”

  Jones was pulling on his undershirt. He straightened it, dragged over it the thick blue-flannel outer shirt that served also as a coat, except in the most bitter winter weather. Now that he was dressed and had retied the bandanna about his throat, he looked a trifle less formidable. The narrowness of his hips belied the real weight and power of those shoulders, once the shirt obscured their bulging muscles. One might have almost described this man as tall and slender.

  He picked up his belt, last of all, and buckled it on. It hung loosely, canting high on the left thigh and low over the right, with the time-polished holster of the Colt hanging low down, convenient to the touch of his hand. As his fingers brushed across the worn leather, now, he turned that hand palm up and stood there silently, looking down as though he were seeing it for the first time.

  “It’s just a wooden leg, you might say,” suggested Mr. Jones, in his soft and pleasant voice. Then he added, as cheerfully as ever: “What do I owe you, Doctor Lindus?”

  “Three dollars,” said the doctor.

  “Ah . . . more than that, I guess. Five dollars would be closer, wouldn’t it?” asked Jones. He pulled out a wallet that he had begun to unfasten, but the fingers of his right hand kept fumbling and stumbling and slipping on the strap. He made another very brief pause and looked at that hand again. The smile never failed to curve his lips, slightly, but in the eyes there was a sort of frightened agony. Then, left-handed, he opened the wallet and gave the doctor a bill.

  The doctor frowned. “I wanted to add a bit more advice,” he said huskily.

  “Go right ahead, partner,” invited Jones.

  “The weather around here . . . it may not be right for that arm of yours,” said the doctor. “Summer or winter . . . it would hardly do for you. I’d go some place where the altitude is less . . . and the extremes of temperature not so great.”

  Young Jones was looking fixedly at him, searching his mind, until finally the doctor broke out: “I’d go somewhere else . . . where there aren’t so many Martins around.”

  One of those pregnant silences continued for a moment. “You know me, Doctor Lindus?” asked the man who had said his name was Jones.

  “I know you, Cheyenne,” said the doctor.

  “You knew me all along?” he asked.

  “No. But an idea about you kept building in me, and all at once I knew. If you stay around here, the Martins will certainly get you. They’ll never forgive you for the killing of Danny Martin, and the shooting of Chuck.”

  “They asked for it. What was I to do?”

  The doctor brushed away philosophical considerations. “That’s all right,” he said. “But there are other things. If the Martins got another mob and pulled you down, public opinion would probably call it self-defense.”

  “Because I’m Cheyenne . . . because some folks call me a gunman? Is that it?”

  “You’ve put a long life into mighty few years,” remarked Lindus.

  “It’s really been a quiet life,” answered Cheyenne, “except for some people’s foolish talk.”

  “It seems to me that I can remember a good many times when your life wasn’t so quiet. There was that affair of the Tollivers.”

  “I was just a kid and I got excited when the three of them began to put the pressure on me.”

  “There was Rip Morgan.”

  “Rip was a bad hombre. And I was young enough to feel that I ought to get myself a little reputation.”

  “What did I hear about Larue?”

  “He was only a Canuck,” said Cheyenne.

  “And there were two men over in Tombstone. And some others here and there.”

  “One of those in Tombstone was a crooked gambler. But I’m not arguing. I just wanted to tell you that it’s been a pretty quiet life. I’ve lived by punching cows, not by shooting men.”

  “Nevertheless,” said the doctor, “if you’ll take my advice, you’ll disappear out of this part of the country before some of your enemies find out that you’ve only got a left hand.”

  At this, Cheyenne glanced out the window, and the doctor saw the softening of his eyes as they rested on the majestic heights of the nearby mountains.

  “You love your range, Cheyenne. Is that it?”

  “Well, I’ve had Old Smoky and some of those other mountains in my eye all my life, Doc.”

  “You’ll have to take ’em out. You’ll have to go somewhere and get used to a new landscape for a while . . . till you’re cured.”

  “Cured?” said Cheyenne. And he smiled suddenly at the doctor in a way that brought a lump into the throat of Lindus. “You’re right,” went on Cheyenne. “I’ve got to get out. And I’m going to. Thanks, Doc.”

  He went to the door, put on his hat with his right hand, pulled it down with the left. “So long, Doc,” he said.

  “Good luck to you, Cheyenne,” said the doctor anxiously.


  Outside, in the street, Sideways was still waiting for him with her head high. The gray mare pricked her ears in welcome now, and came toward him as far as the tethering rope would let her. The lines of her beauty and her strength filled his mind as a fine tool fits the hand of an artisan, but above all he loved to see the wild brightness melt out of her eyes when she looked at him after an absence.

  Well before he was safely off this range, he might need all the windy speed of her galloping hoofs, all the strength of her heart. He should, he knew, get out of town at once. Yet he could not start until the shoe that had loosened on her right forehoof was tightened.

  He untied the rope and she followed him across the street, making sure that he was indeed her master by sniffing at his hand, at his shoulder, at the nape of his neck. He would have smiled at this persistent affection, but the dread of people for the first time was clotting his blood and benumbing his brain with fear.

  Every window seemed an eye that stared at him and perceived instantly that he was not what he had been. His height and his weight were what they had been before, but he was a shell that contained no substance, a machine whose power could not be used. His right hand was gone.

  He passed through the open double doors of the blacksmith shop into the pungent, sulphurous clouds of blue smoke that rolled away from the fire, beside which the blacksmith was swaying the handle of the bellows up and down with the sooty weight of his arm. The smithy, who was big and fat, wiped the sweat off his forehead and left a smudge behind. He was so hot and so fat that grease seemed to distill with his sweat.

  “Shoeing all around?” he asked.

  “Just tighten up the right fore shoe,” said Cheyenne.

  He started to make a cigarette, but suddenly changed his mind and crunched the wheat-straw paper inside his left hand, letting the makings dribble to the ground. For no man must be allowed to see the brainless clumsiness of his touch.

  He stood at the head of the mare, saying to the smith: “Be easy with her. Move your hands slowly or she’ll kick your head off.”

  The blacksmith, with the forehoof of the mare between his knees, was pulling off the loose shoe, wrenching it from side to side. The gray flattened her
ears and breathed noisily out of red-rimmed nostrils, until a word from Cheyenne quieted her.

  The smoke was rising to the soot-encrusted rafters, and the slanting sun began to illumine the interior of the shop. Which was why the newcomer who had just stepped in from the street looked to be more shadow than human.

  But Cheyenne sensed the danger even before he recognized the man, a fellow with wide, heavy jaws and narrow, squinted eyes beneath a sloping forehead. It was Turk Melody. He had been a great friend of Buck Wilson who, only three months before, had made his play to win a great name by matching draws with Cheyenne. He had not wanted to kill that wild young fool. He had put a bullet through Buck’s hip. But the bullet had glanced upward, and Buck had died—despite the doctors that Cheyenne had brought to him.

  Turk Melody had not been present at the time. He had arrived only in time to look at the dead man and to swear, with his right hand raised, that he would avenge Buck the first time he met Cheyenne. It was a public statement. That was the trouble with it, for men who make public statements on the range often have to die for them.

  Turk, as he saw Cheyenne, snatched at his gun. And Cheyenne did nothing. Lightning messages were ripping from his brain to his right hand, and back again. His right hand twitched, but that was all.

  Even if he pulled the gun before he was dead, he knew that he would not be able to hit a target with it. Frosty cold invaded him. The back of his neck ached with rigidity. His stomach was hollow. Something like homesickness troubled his heart. It was then he realized that he was afraid.

  He could thank God for one thing only—that the smile, however frozen, remained on his face. He was going to die. Turk Melody was going to kill him, driven on to action by the promise he had made to the world.

  The blacksmith felt the electric chill of that moment. He straightened suddenly and growled: “Now, what the hell’s up?”

  At that Turk Melody cried: “Fill your hand, Cheyenne! Damn you . . . fill your hand!”

  His voice was a scream. It quivered up and down the scale. And Cheyenne could see that his whole body was shaken.

  Fighting his own fear, Cheyenne walked forward slowly. “You poor scared fool,” he said. “Your hand’s shaking. I don’t want to murder you, Melody. You . . . get out of here before I start something.”