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Fightin' Fool

Max Brand

  Table of Contents






























  Copyright 1933, 1939 by Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc.


  Max Brand


  A Glib Young Man

  “Jingo: one who believes in a warlike foreign policy.” So says the dictionary, but though “Jingo’s” only policy was warlike, and though he treated most people as though they were foreigners, the people who nicknamed him did not have “foreign policy” in mind. Conjurers, in the old days, just as they were about to perform a trick, would cry out: “Hey, Jingo!” or “Hai, Jingo!” just as at a later date they yelled “Presto!” And out of that expression came the petty oath: “By Jingo!” People had some such thing in mind when they called him “Jingo,” for, in fact, he was a fellow to be either sworn at or sworn by.

  He was a thing to fill the eye and warm the heart. He was in his early twenties. He was small enough to lose himself in a crowd, and big enough to punch holes in any member of it. He was as handsome as a wild-caught mustang that has sleeked its sides on the mountain grasses and carries the light of the fire-new morning in its eyes. He was cut out of silk, and he was all from one piece. He feared nothing but the devil, and relied only on his own two strong hands.

  This was Jingo as he rode into the town of Tower Creek, under the shadow of Tower Mountain, filled with a “war-like foreign policy.”

  He came on an eager mustang with the head of a thoroughbred and an eye that had a jag of red lightning in it. Like horse, like rider.

  But though Jingo liked excitement, he found no gratification in fine clothes. His blue flannel shirt was the regular range brand. His sombrero was battered, and the brim of it had been stiffened by passing a rawhide thong through the edge of it. His trousers were as trousers are on the range. He wore a pair of brown leather chaps scarred white by the claws of cactus and mesquite. He had the usual bandanna of red and white around his throat, and only his boots had been made with costly care, and only the long, spoon-handled spurs were things of beauty and of grace. Nevertheless, he always had a way of looking spick-and-span, as though he had been traveling too fast for the dust to catch up and settle on him.

  This was Jingo as he rode into Tower Creek. Older men slowed their steps and smiled faintly as they saw him go by. Younger men frowned a little and went on with a thoughtful expression. Mothers doubted him, but their daughters let their hearts come right up in their eyes when they stared at Jingo. For every girl is tempted to throw herself away when she sees a man whose hands may be strong enough to catch her.

  It was a big day in Tower Creek. It was the twentieth anniversary of something or other, and Tower Creek was proud of being twenty years old and still alive to tell about it. There were flags in front of the stores and the saloons. Bunting was strung, fluttering, across the street. And that night there was to be a great dance to which people had come all the way from Blue Water, out of the Blue Water Mountains that looked the color of their name to the north and west, joining the clouds in the sky with the special sheen of snow.

  At that particular moment, the best thing that was happening in Tower Creek was a poker game in the back room of Joe Slade’s saloon. The most important thing in that game was Wally Rankin, gambler and gunman. And the stakes were piling high, particularly in front of Wally, when Jingo, with an instinct truer than that of a homing pigeon, entered that game with his smiling-face and his warlike policy.

  The sky was the limit. Jingo won five hundred dollars in the first ten minutes. At the end of a half hour he was playing in his stocking feet, because he had put up his fine boots and the beautiful spoon-handled spurs that were attached to them. By that time Wally Rankin was smiling faintly, a thing that he rarely allowed himself to do. But, above all things in the world, he loved to “take” a self-confident young fellow. Wally Rankin regarded himself as a moral influence in this world because he was the reef on which it is prophesied by our elders that foolish youth will be wrecked. Wally had wrecked a lot of youth, and he was glad of it; particularly because he always salvaged everything worth taking out of the sinking ship.

  Wally was a stern fellow in most of his moods. He looked stern, and he was sterner than his looks. He was six feet three of whalebone and rawhide. His hands were so big that a full-sized Colt looked like a boy’s water pistol in his grasp, and he could palm half a pack of cards without bending in his thumb. Wally was an honest gambler. That is to say, he never cheated till he had to. Usually the size of his bank roll and the weight of his long experience were sufficient to clean out the heaviest and the luckiest of cowboy gamblers. But if these would not do, Wally knew perfectly well how to take other measures.

  Luck, which had dodged Jingo so deftly, now came back and leaned an elbow on his shoulder and laid her cheek against his. He took fifteen hundred dollars out of that game in the next few minutes, and then held four little sevens over an ace full on a pair of queens that resided in the large grasp of Wally Rankin.

  The trouble was that Wally had liked that ace full. It had said something to him in a definite voice. And he pushed out money with free gestures until cold doubt at last laid hands on him and he narrowed his eyes at the handsome, smiling-face of Jingo, whose boots were once more on his feet. Wally shoved in a hundred to call Jingo’s last raise, and then had a chance to see the four little sevens appear on the table—four little sevens like four little brothers, hand in hand. And the three huge aces and the two dignified queens in the possession of Wally Rankin were just big enough to be beaten.

  Wally Rankin smiled faintly. He saw that he would have to give the game a new turn, and he did. Inside, in the outer breast pocket of his coat, he had a well-folded, moistened handkerchief, and two sticks of a good dye, one red and one blue. And as he dealt or handled his cards, he began to leave on the backs of them tiny little smudges of blue and red that dried immediately. Presently he could read the backs of those cards as well as he could read their faces. After that the game’s fortunes obviously began to favor him. He stopped resting his right hand on the edge of his breast pocket.

  That was where he made his mistake. For the eye of Jingo, no matter how bright and careless it was in its rovings, was only a little less acute than that of a hawk in the air or a wolf on the ground. And after a moment or so he began to notice the backs of the cards in his turn.

  Finally he said: “Gentlemen, one of us at this table is a dirty, black-hearted, slick-handed, sneaking coyote. The cards have been crooked. The man who did it is carrying a red dye and a blue dye with him. I guess we’d better be searched, all of us.”

  At that table there was a cattleman who had contributed twenty-five hundred dollars to the game. He could afford the contribution. Now he stuck out his square jaw and said: “Are you looking at me, young fellow?”

  “I’m looking at Mr. Rankin,” said Jingo, smiling.

  Wally Rankin was a very astute fellow, but he mistook the meaning of that smile, and therefore he was a trifle leisurely in his draw. The result
was that he showed the gleaming blue steel of his Colt, something flashed in the long fingers of Jingo, and Wally was knocked sidelong out of his chair by a bullet that had crashed through his right shoulder.

  He was hurt, pained, surprised. But Wally still had a good card up his sleeve. He was just as good with his left hand as he was with his right, and as he lay on the floor he pulled that second gun. If there had been a stationary target, he would unquestionably have drilled it right through the bull’s-eye, because Wally was a man who had long ago learned that he could not afford to miss. But Jingo was not stationary. At that instant he was, in fact, jumping over the table, and as he landed, he put another bullet into Wally, this time through the left shoulder.

  The heart of Wally was strong and determined, but what can a fellow do when he lacks a pair of arms? Wally had to lie still in his blood while Jingo reached into his breast pocket and produced that telltale pair of dye sticks and the handkerchief which was moistened by the chemical solution.

  Well, the town of Tower Creek was a very clannish and patriotic town. It was proud of its leading citizens, of whom Wally Rankin, the “honest” gambler, was one. But there was nothing to be done for him now except to carry him home on a door and mop up the blood on the floor of the saloon.

  Jingo lingered long enough to see that the table stakes were divided in equal portions among the other players. Then he went into the bar and gave the bartender fifty dollars to buy drinks all day long “for any tramp that looks thirsty.” He took three fingers of whisky himself to wet his whistle, for he felt like whistling.

  Then Sheriff Vince Cary came in and picked up Jingo and got him into a corner. The sheriff was a calm man. He looked like the gray of pure iron or fine steel, and that was the stuff he was made of. He was not young. Many a crook could testify that Vince Cary was too old to be fooled with.

  When he had Jingo in a corner, he asked: “Do you know me?”

  “Yes,” said Jingo. “You’re the coroner, aren’t you?”

  “Coroner?” exclaimed the sheriff. “Why should there be a coroner around here?”

  “To look at the body before it’s cold,” suggested Jingo.

  The sheriff made a pause. His brain was strong, but it was not fast. After a time he said: “Young fellow, you don’t seem to be a fool. You even seem to know that there may be trouble around this town for you. If that’s the case, why don’t you ride on while you’re able to sit in a saddle?”

  “Because,” said Jingo, “I want to see what trouble looks like. I’ve heard a lot about it. I was beginning to think that it was just one of those things in a book.”

  The sheriff did not smile. It was a very tough speech, and a very brash speech that he had just heard. Now he said: “Wally Rankin has a brother, as I suppose you’ve heard.”

  “I haven’t heard,” said Jingo, “but he looked like a fellow who might have something good at home.”

  “Jake Rankin is good,” said the sheriff. “He’s so good that he’s never been taken.”

  “He’s trouble, is he?” asked Jingo.

  “That’s his first name. As soon as he gets a chance to find you alone—”

  “It’s hard to be alone in this town,” said Jingo, “but I’ll try.”

  “What do you think of this town?” asked the sheriff.

  “Why, it’s a nice little place,” said Jingo. “Nice and quiet. A good place for an invalid. The sort of a place where a man could rest. A lot of lungers would like to find a place like this to die in. It’s the sort of air that has bubbles in it, and a lot of sparkle. A good town for old men to get older in, I should say.”

  The sheriff considered this glibness, and again he failed to smile. “Young man,” he said, “this town has a large cemetery. The cemetery is quite a feature of this here town.”

  “I thought so,” said Jingo. “Even mountain air can’t cure every disease.”

  “A lot of people have enjoyed a sudden death around here,” went on the sheriff. “Matter of fact, there seems to be something dangerous in the air. I dunno what. But I could tell a man the minute I see his face whether the air of this town would be dangerous or not. It’s a kind of a gift that I’ve got. The minute I seen your face I knew that you’d better move on.”

  “Thanks,” said Jingo. “But the fact is that I’ve got to stay on here. I’ve got to meet somebody.”


  “I don’t know,” said Jingo. “I’ve just got a feeling that I’ve got to meet somebody here.”

  The sheriff started scowling. He was very angry. For one thing, he loved his town, and it angered him to the very heart to hear a young adventurer make light of it. “Who are you?” he asked.

  “You mean, who are my folks, and everything like that?”

  “That’s what I mean,” said the sheriff.

  “My father is old Joseph Isaac Jingo,” said Jingo. “Maybe you’ve heard of him.”

  “I haven’t,” said the sheriff. “What did you say the last name was?”

  “He’s a very respected citizen,” said Jingo. “Joseph Isaac Jingo is his name.”

  The sheriff stared into the grave face of Jingo. “The devil that’s his name!” said he.

  “The devil it isn’t,” said Jingo.

  “Young feller, are you trying to pull my leg?”

  “Your leg seems to be long enough already,” said Jingo. “Joseph Isaac Jingo is my father’s name. Some people call him ‘Jig’ for short.”

  “Yeah, I’ll bet they do,” said the sheriff. “Did he ever dance on air, eh?”

  Jingo smiled gently.

  “What part of the country d’you come from, anyway?” asked the sheriff.

  “Well,” said Jingo, “I wish you could see the place. A beautiful corner of the world, sheriff—you are a sheriff, aren’t you?”

  “Yes. I’m the sheriff.”

  “I thought so,” said Jingo, “I can always tell a sheriff by a certain tired look around the mouth and a lost look about the eyes. But, speaking of the part of the country I come from—ah, there’s a place to see, sheriff. There’s a section where the cattle are cattle. There’s a place where the long-horns grow bigger and fatter than shorthorns any place else. I wish I could tell you, sheriff, about the way the hills roll back to the mountains, and the berry thickets along the creeks, and the big trees in the uplands, and the deer that any boy can pot with a .22, and the trout in the streams like bits of sunshine flashing, and the old white buildings on the ranches, and the farm lands in the river bottoms, and the cattle everywhere, big, bright-colored pools of ’em gathered close together under the shadows of the trees in the heat of the day.”

  “That sounds like a country to me!” said the sheriff dreamily. “Good country for sheep?”

  “It’s a strange thing,” said Jingo, “but sheepherders never seem to have any luck in that part of the world. A lot of times they’ve started to drive in their flocks for the open range, but something always happens. The sheep get along very well. They like the grass. They start to get fat, but there’s something about the air that dries up the sheepherders and makes them disappear. And when the shepherds are gone, you know that a flock won’t last long. The wolves come and get the sheep.”

  The sheriff laughed heartily. “That sounds good to me. That sounds like a real man’s country,” said the sheriff. “Got a town around there?”

  “A town? The best town you ever saw,” said Jingo. “There’s a church in the middle of it, and a pair of swimming pools on the edge of it, a school for the boys to play hookey from, and plenty of lights for the cow-punchers to shoot out on Saturday night.”

  The sheriff laughed again. “What did you say the name of that town was?” he asked.

  “Jingoville,” said Jingo, without smiling.

  The sheriff started violently out of his pleasant daydream. “Are you kidding me?”

  “Kidding you?” said Jingo seriously. “Kidding you? Kidding a sheriff? No, no, sir. I wouldn’t do that. I want you to und
erstand that I was raised to respect sheriffs. I was properly raised, and taught to be respectful to old women, and half-wits, and sheriffs.”

  Sheriff Cary raised his hand and tugged down his sombrero a little over his eyes so that they were lost in a deeper shadow. He stared for a moment.

  “You must be tired standing,” said Jingo. “Take this chair. I’ll order you a drink, if I may. A nice, cold milk shake with a dash of sherry to flavor it would be about the thing, I should say.”

  The sheriff turned on his heel and left the saloon.


  Lead Peddler

  Enough of this conversation had been heard for all the bystanders to know what had gone on. And since there were very few people in Tower Creek who dared to badger the sheriff, and since every one always wishes to take a fall out of the powers of the law, there was a good, hearty laugh from the crowd in the barroom as the sheriff went outside. The saloon keeper, Joe Slade, rubbed his knuckles across his thick, loose lips and laughed the loudest of the lot.

  “I hear you say that you came from Jingoville?” he asked.

  “That’s right,” said Jingo. “You know the place?”

  “I’ve got a second cousin of my sister’s aunt living there right now,” said the bartender. “He stays there for his complexion and the shooting.”

  Jingo rested his foot on the bar and called for another drink. “When the season comes in,” said he, “all you can hear, from morning to night, is the booming of the guns in the hills, as steady as the roaring of waterfalls in the spring floods. That’s the way it is when the season opens in Jingoville.”

  “The season for shooting what?” asked a bystander.

  “Grasshoppers,” said Jingo. He left the saloon while the uproar was still continuing, and went out onto the street.

  “Where is Jake Rankin?” he asked a man at the first corner.

  The man had a sour face and a sour temper. “Jake Rankin lives at the corner of Hope Alley and Hell Street,” he said, and walked on down the street.

  Jingo was pleased. He liked what he had heard, and he liked the set of the stranger’s shoulders, and the towering height of him. He hurried to catch up with him. “Tell me about yourself, brother,” said Jingo. “It seems that I’ve met you somewhere. In a dream, perhaps.”