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Sour Creek Valley

Max Brand


  A Western Story

  Max Brand®

  Copyright © 1926 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1953 by Dorothy Faust. © 2018 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. © 2018 by Golden West Literary Agency

  The name Max Brand® is a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and cannot be used for any purpose without express written permission.

  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 978-1-5384-7452-5

  Library e-book ISBN 978-1-5384-7451-8


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

  Blackstone Publishing

  31 Mistletoe Rd.

  Ashland, OR 97520

  Chapter One

  Nobody has to tell me—because I know. If I had stayed on the range, I would’ve been all right—mixing around in my own crowd of folks, who would’ve understood that I was just extra happy and letting off steam. A gang of city people got no sense of humor. Neither do they care none about what other folks would be thinking. The only street that they’ve any interest in is the one that they live on. The only house of that street that amounts to anything is the number where they stay. I mean the usual city folks. Not you!

  I don’t want to get mixed up; I want to tell this straight. It began when I hit the pay dirt on the back of old Champion Mountain. I thought it would be one of those pinch veins; it started too good. But it didn’t pinch. It strung out and got wider. I ground up a terrible lot of dust with my little coffee mill, and before that vein disappeared I had the haul of my life.

  My haul was just too big. The idea of staying on the range or in a range town wouldn’t fit up with a load of hard cash like that. I needed a lot fancier corral to show my stuff. I started for the city.

  I didn’t have any idea of spending everything that I had, of course. I figured that my wad was so thick that I could paw at it for six months and never more than raise the surface. After that, I would go back to the range, where my own country is, and grab me a ranch and a gang of cows and start in regular to be a real man. Prospecting was never more than a side show to me.

  When I got to town, I got myself fixed up with some clothes. They weren’t quiet, either. They were calculated to match up with the way that I was feeling inside, which was just happy, you understand? I didn’t miss any tricks. Gloves and such went in with the lot, and I had a vest that fair palpitated good cheer. I got me a cane, too—which they call them sticks when they speak polite. I even got down to spats, though I never got used to wearing cloth on my feet.

  Where I appeared, I was a noise that made folks look around. I began to have a real grand time. I set myself up at a hotel where you could spend five bucks for a meal without any particular pain, and where the elevator boy looked like the son of a college president. After a while I collected some friends, too, and they showed me how really to part yourself from coin.

  So, I woke up one morning and pulled out my wad, and I was pretty near beat to see that it had melted down to three hundred-dollar bills. That wasn’t enough to make a dent on the range. I decided that I might as well go chasing after the rest of the gold dust. I rung up a couple of the boys, and we started on a party. I was feeling a mite reckless, but I figured out that I wouldn’t really want to hurt anybody’s feelings, so I left my Colt behind in the bureau drawer.

  We skidded around the town for a while, and about midnight we found ourselves in a gambling joint. I see my last twenty go across the green felt, just at the same time that the dealer made a funny pass. I reached out and grabbed his hand—and down from his sleeve there come—oh, nothing much—just a couple of aces. You understand?

  I was not really peeved. I had aimed to spend the last of my coin that night, and it didn’t much matter how it went. But making this discovery of mine give me a chance to make that party real. Peeling off my coat, I stood up on the table and told the folks in general what I thought of them and their ways. The boss of the joint ordered a couple of bouncers on me, and I dived off the table at them to make a beginning.

  They didn’t make a beginning; they just flattened out on the floor, and I had to walk over them to get at the crowd.

  If I had had the old Colt with me, there wouldn’t have been any trouble. There rarely is with guns. Revolvers are not deadly weapons. They’re just noisemakers. Some folks fire off crackers on the Fourth; on the range, they’re more partial to Colts.

  You get heated up, and you pull your Colt, and you blaze away. You don’t hit anything, because revolvers ain’t meant for hitting targets except by accident. You just bust a couple of mirrors and windows, plow up the floor, and rake the ceiling. Everybody whoops and dances around and limbers up, and a good time is had by all, with nothing in the way of damage done that a carpenter can’t fix in half a day’s work. But all I had was my hands.

  I’m not small. Working a single jack and grinding pay dirt hadn’t made me any smaller. When I stepped into that crowd and laid my hands on a couple of the boys, I could feel them give under my grip like their bones were made of India rubber. More than that, they got scared, and they began to yell, “He’s gone mad! Get the police!”

  It was disgusting to hear the way that they carried on because I was taking a mite of exercise. One of them got so excited that he hit me over the head with a chair. After that I let that crowd have both fists.

  I waded through them across the room. Then I turned around and made a furrow back the long way of the place. When I came to the door, there stood a couple of cops. What difference were cops to me? I bumped their heads together, took a breath of fresh air from the outside, and went back to finish scrambling up the eggs inside.

  I’d hardly got started when one of the coppers crawled to his feet and pulled a gun. I had to take it away from him. Then his buddy got funny with his nightstick and busted it over my head, and I had to take him up and throw him through the window, with the glass and the frame carried along in front of him.

  The lights went out, and right after that I skidded on something and went down on the back of my head. When I came to, I was riding on a wagon with a couple of boys in blue coats and brass buttons sitting on my chest. I said to them would they please mind shifting off my chest. And one of them said, “He’s waking up. I told you that he would.”

  “Sure,” said another. “You can’t kill a Swede by hitting him over the head. He ain’t vulnerable there.”

  I said, “Gentlemen, did you sort of refer to me by speakin’ of a Swede?”

  They allowed that they did, and I got real irritated.

  The size of that patrol wagon cramped my style a good deal, but I managed to have a pretty good time, taking all things together. The five coppers were pretty groggy when we got to the station house. Then about a dozen fresh hands turned out and grabbed me.

  “Use gun butts on him,” said the sergeant from where he was lying on the floor holding his side with both arms. “Clubs ain’t nothing but matchwood to him.”

  That was a mighty practical police force. They took his word for it and they tried out my head with gun butts.

  I came to in a cell, all wrapped up in bandages. My clothes were torn up, too, which hurt me more than the feeling of my head—a whole lot. That outfit was something that the boys up there on the range would pretty near have paid admissio
n for the sake of having a look at it.

  The next morning, I had to see the judge. He looked me over and wanted to know if I had resisted arrest. The sergeant said that here was fifteen members of the force that would testify that I had, and five more that he wanted particular to bring into the courtroom, but the doctor said that they were not fit to be allowed out of bed right then.

  “And how about the prisoner?” asked the judge. “He looks as though he had been sent down a flume.”

  I said that I was all right, and that I was sorry that I had messed up any of the boys.

  “Are you a professional wrestler?” asked the judge.

  “With doggies and drills.”

  The judge gave me a grin. “You are just down from the range?”

  “My first and last appearance here, you bet,” I said.

  “All right,” said the judge. “By the looks of my police force, it had better be your last appearance. Thirty days!”

  “Thirty days?” sang out the police force, when they got me outside the room. “Thirty years would be more like it. I never heard an old sap like that judge. He had ought to be in the asylum for crippled brains.”

  Thirty days didn’t seem like very much, between you and me. I thought that a month in jail would be nothing, but by the time that the first week was over, and the swelling on my head had sunk down pretty near to the bedrock of my skull, my patience was all used up. Besides, the fare was pretty poor in that jail. It’s hard to keep two hundred and twenty pounds of bone and meat working on the sort of a diet that they handed me.

  Well, the night of the eighth day I tried the bars, and I found a place where the stuff gave a little when I pulled. Pretty soon I had worked a bar out of its socket.

  My hands were raw before I got through working that bar loose, but after that I had a sort of can opener to use on the rest of the prison. I never saw a lever that was handier for the forcing of doors than that bar was. It worked just fine, and I simply tore myself out of that jail as easy as anything that you would want.

  When I got to the street, I remembered that my clothes weren’t too good. I went back, tied up one of the guards, put on his suit, and borrowed a hat from a peg on the wall of the office. I also took a handful of smokes off of the desk of the warden’s room, and started out again.

  After eleven blocks, what should bump into me as I turned a corner but the night patrol! There was no reason why they should have suspected me—I was walking along brisk and sober. But they asked me what I was doing at that hour of the night. When I started to tell them that I was a milk-wagon driver, and that I was reporting for the morning beat, one of the coppers recognized my voice. That patrol spilled all over me, yelling, “The Swede!”

  My hands were sore from my work eight nights before, but I did pretty well until someone sank a .45 slug through my left thigh.

  They took me back and got me ready for the judge. It was pretty tough. The first time was just riot and resisting arrest, but this time it was breaking jail, assault on a guard, burglary, and resisting arrest all over again.

  The judge said, “One year!”

  Why should I string this story out? I tried to bust loose again, and the result was that I wound up in Fulsom for two years!

  I don’t know how it is now, but in those days Fulsom was a nest of pretty hard birds. I was no softy when I went into that penitentiary, but I was a hard-boiled, foolproof bad one before I had been in there six months. The work was just hard enough to keep me fit, and my appetite good enough to enjoy the prison grub. I got meaner and harder over time.

  After I had served out a year of my sentence, I was headed for being a real bad one. Then I bumped into the chaplain. He went by the name of Maxim, and he was a rare, good old boy with a white head and a cool blue eye. We hit it off first-class. We used to have boxing shows at the prison games, once a month. That chaplain used to umpire the bouts. The first time that I showed, when I was whaling the ribs out of a big two-hundred-and-fifty-pound Finn, the chaplain said, “Kitchin, you’re not getting paid for this.”

  That struck me funny, and I got to laughing so that I couldn’t do the Finn no real harm after that, aside from busting his nose in the last round.

  The chaplain and me became friends. He got to talking to me regular, and pretty soon he got me a soft job as a trusty, working in his office. It panned out pretty good, too. When he called in a bad actor, it sort of helped the thug to take religion serious, seeing me in the background. Because I wasn’t ever a pretty man, and having my head clipped didn’t improve me none; it made my ears stick out most amazing.

  The chaplain got me to reading books, too, and he educated me pretty thorough all around. Which is why I can write so good about everything that I done and seen.

  When I left that prison I was pretty near sorry to go. First of all, I had planned to go in with a couple of yeggs and work the small towns in the backcountry with them, but the chaplain, he talked me out of it altogether. He said that the range was the place for me. So back to the range I went.

  I was none too proud; jailbirds are not popular on the range—and I was known pretty well by my riding and my being so big. Well, I looked over the map and picked out a corner of the mountains where I had never been before. I picked out the town specially because it had such a funny name—Sour City. Three days later, I crawled out from the rods, stretched myself, and looked over my new country.

  It was a pretty good little town. It was set down in the corner between where Sour Creek runs into the Big Muddy. It was as neat a little town as you’d ever like to see, with some paving, street lamps, good shops, one brick hotel and two that weren’t brick, and pretty nearly everything that anybody could want to have in a town. Over the hills that rolled up all around, there was a fine big sweep of cattle country. Behind that, the mountains went sashaying up to the sky, with black pines most of the way and a white-headed summit here and there.

  Altogether, it looked good to me. I stopped in at a blacksmith shop to see about a job, but they were full-handed. Anyway, they couldn’t see past my peeled head, so I went out on the street—and the first person that I bumped into was the sergeant.

  I mean the police sergeant that I had laid out in the patrol wagon down in the city!

  Chapter Two

  Aiming the way that I was, toward starting at the bottom and working my way up, with a new name the same as the chaplain had planned for me to take, I wasn’t any too tickled to see the face of that sergeant. But I was plumb happy compared with him.

  He gave me a walleyed look, and then he sidestepped right out into the gutter. I started to pass on, but then I changed my mind and turned around, going back to where he was still standing and looking at me. He acted like he expected me to hit him.

  “I’m armed, Kitchin!” he cried. “Don’t try nothing! I’m armed, and I won’t take nothing from you!”

  “Sergeant,” I said, “you got me wrong.”

  He put up his hand, quick. “I’m not a sergeant anymore,” he said. “I’m doing some ranching up here, Blondy, and it doesn’t help any to bring up the past.”

  I hadn’t liked him when I met him there in the city, because he took it to heart so mean, the way that I laid him out in the patrol wagon. Now I could see that he was even worse than I had thought.

  You take them, by and large, the cops are a pretty good lot. A policeman is a fellow that is willing to risk his life for his job, and mostly men that do that sort of work have got to have something that is worthwhile in them.

  Take most of those boys down there in the city. They didn’t hold any grudge against me because I had spoiled a few of their faces for a while. One fellow that had a nose out of place used to make a point of coming around to see me, and he used to chat with me real cheerful. He would tell me how he was taking boxing lessons. He hoped that when I got out of jail, I would drop around to see him, then he would peel
off his uniform, and we would have it out. He would try to do for my nose what I had already done for his. I intended to give him the chance, too. If things ever get laid out so that I can take some time off and get back to that town, I’m sure going to call on him and give him his chance at me.

  Well, most coppers are that way—clean, hard hitters—but now and then you’ll come across an exception to the rule. That sergeant had got a busted rib where I hit him, in the police patrol. Not really clean busted, but only fractured—nothing hardly worth speaking about at all, between men. But he laid on about it a lot. He had told me that when I got out of that jail, I would be extremely lucky if he didn’t have me in again so fast that my head would swim.

  All of these things came piling back through my head when I met him up there in Sour City. I saw where he hated to have it known that he had ever been a sergeant, because he felt that he had raised himself a whole long way above those old days. That made me dislike him a lot more than I ever had before. About the lowest thing that a man can do is to try to cut himself loose from what he used to be in his past.

  I said, “Randal, if you want me to forget that you used to be a police sergeant and …”

  “That’s exactly what I want you to do.” He was pretty eager about it, too. “However,” he went right on, “I don’t suppose that you’re going to be staying around Sour City very long?”

  The minute that I saw him, I had decided that I would be moving on as soon as the next freight pulled out from the station, but the way he talked, it made me think that I had better stay on right where I was. It looked like a chance was opening up, and I decided to talk straight to him. The chaplain had pretty well persuaded me that you don’t gain anything by talking around the corners about folks.

  I said, “Randal, it ain’t hard to see that you want to get rid of me from here.”

  “Not at all!” he exclaimed, and he waved his hand, but I could see a fairly sick look on his face.