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Hunch, that, with, been, Santiago, have, this, said, from, ain’t, they, like, over, Beckler, when, there, Oliver, Bug-Eye, back, them, down, don’t, came, time, what, didn’t, looked, “You, just, Bug-Eye.


Short Stories, July 25, 1943
Hunches Are Sometimes
Author of Many Stories of
Sheriff Hunch McElroy
ow looky here, Hunch!” said
the bristle-jawed, frog-eyed
young deputy called BugEye, in that half exasperated, half
solicitous tone commonly used by the
young toward elders of whom they are
fond, but whom they privately consider
too old and feeble to scratch their own
itch. “There ain’t no need of you wearin’
your tail-bone off any shorter than it
already is. It’s right smart of a ride out
there, an’ I can arrest ol’ Santiago jest as
easy as you can.”
“Easier, I expect,” sighed Sheriff
McElroy. He pulled on the second boot of
the sag-heeled pair that habitually stood
under the pine plank table upon whose top
it was the banty old law officer’s custom
to rest gray-socked feet when in his office.
“I sorter hate to arrest a man for murder
that’s been votin’ for me for thirty-odd
years like ol’ Santiago has. But I got a
hunch I better go along, Bug-Eye. I ain’t
rode nowheres in so long my legs are
plumb losin’ their bend.
“Besides”—he stooped to pat the head
of a solemn-eyed black and white dog of
possible shepherd ancestry that stood tailwagging at his side—“I got a hunch Oliver
wouldn’t enjoy the trip near as much
without his ol’ boss—would you, ol’
“Goshamighty!” This time Bug-Eye’s
protest was frankly a groan of disgust.
“We cain’t make no time waitin’ up fer a
domgaddled pooch ever’ time he spooks a
rabbit. By myself I could git there quick!”
“What’s the high-powered hurry? If ol’
‘Sus is dead like this gent reports, he’ll
stay thataway, won’t he?”
“Yeah, but s’posin’—”
“Supposin’ you git the ponies
saddled,” broke in old Hunch dryly,
“while I sag apast the county clerk’s office
an’ leave word where we’re gone. Wup!
Wait a minute!”
Hunch turned to the angular, drooplidded gringo prospector who had just
brought them the news of old Jesus Maria
Jaramillo’s probable murder.
“I s’pose you’ll ride back with us,
Beckler—you want a fresh hoss?”
Gus Beckler batted wide-set eyes
habitually red rimmed from rock dust and
shrugged, obviously indicating that the
whole business of riding all this way to
town to report a mere Mexican killing was
a duty he had found irksome, but a duty
none the less.
“I’m aboard a mule,” he grunted. “I
reckon he’ll carry me back all right—as
fast as you’ll travel with a dog. I
unsaddled him before I come upstairs so
he’d have a chance to cool out.”
“Bug-Eye will saddle him for you if
you want to gargle a cup of Arbuckle’s at
Pete’s Pancake while I’m in speakin’ to
As was often the case in those days,
the plank County Court House lacked
sufficient room for all the county’s
officials, and since Hunch McElroy had
been sheriff for some years before it was
built, he continued to occupy his old office
next to the jail a block away across the
street. Now as they angled across through
the dust, Hunch questioned his informant
again, as old men often do who have
trouble remembering things.
“Now lemme see, Beckler,” he said,
“how did you say you happened to come
onto this killin’?”
“Well, just like I told you,” said
Beckler patiently, “I was up on the mesa,
on my way to that prospect hole I’m
workin’ on, when I heard shootin’. I
stepped over to the rim, like a man will, to
see what was goin’ on, an’ down on this
side ridge I see this old goat-herder kinder
staggerin’ around. Looked like he was
trying to aim his gun to shoot at somethin’
acrost on the next side-ridge west, but jest
couldn’t git the job done. I looked over
toward this other ridge but couldn’t see
nothing. Then the old goat-herder’s gun
went off in the air, and purt near like an
echo, another shot rung out an’ the ol’
goat-herder dropped in his tracks.”
“An’ you say this feller over on the
other ridge that shot him was ol’ Santiago
“No, I never said nothing of the kind. I
ain’t mixed much with these Mexkins the
six months I been around here, an’ I don’t
hardly know one from the other. But from
the smoke of his gun I located this other
feller raisin’ up from behind a little juniper
bush. He stood there lookin’ a couple
seconds, then turned an’ run kinder down
toward this Santiago Tafoya’s place.”
“So you figger it was ol’ Santiago?”
Over Gus Beckler’s broad, unshaven
face came the look of an exasperated adult
trying to be patient with a half-wit child.
“No, sir, all I told you was that it was
kinder of a short heavy man in a high
peaked black hat, and looked like gray
whiskers. You an’ your deputy done all
the figgerin’ who it was.”
“You sure he didn’t have on a red
shirt? Ol’ Santiago’s got a red-checkered
shirt he wears to the fiestas. Y’see
yesterday was Dia Santiago—big
fandango over at Agua Limpia. Sometimes
they dance all night—even the old ‘uns.
Bein’ about sun-up, like you say, ol’
Santiago might have just got back from the
fiesta an’ still had on his red shirt. You
sure you never noticed it?”
“I tell you,” said Beckler almost
impatiently, “all I saw was a black hat,
what looked like gray whiskers an’ what I
took to be a light blue jumper, an’ his gait
when he run looked to me like an old
“Yeah, they fade,” chuckled Hunch.
“Specially the way Santiago’s ol’ woman
pounds ‘em when she washes. Yep, it must
of been ol’ Santiago! Well, git you some
coffee—I’ll be back in two chaws an’ a
N THE county clerk’s office Hunch
McElroy dropped his wordy chatter.
“Tito,” he told the black-haired young
Spanish clerk, “ol’ ‘Sus has been shot.
You know anything?”
Tito’s black eyes looked shocked, but
he could see that his good friend the
sheriff was in a hurry, so he wasted no
time with questions.
“Don Jesus Maria,” he said, “was here
Tuesday, looking up the boundaries of his
land again. I have not seen Don Santiago
this month.”
“Don Santiago?” Hunch blinked pale,
sun-faded eyes at him. “What’s he got to
do with it?”
Tito spread his slender bookkeeper’s
hands and shrugged.
“Quien sabe?” he said. “You know
that for many years there has been trouble
between those two viejos over the
boundaries of their terrenos!”
“Killin’ trouble, you think?”
“Quien sabe?” Tito shrugged again.
“Sometimes old men are fools!”
“Like me, eh?” Good-humoredly
Hunch reached over the counter to pull the
young Mexican’s nose, then scurried out.
Bug-Eye had the horses and mule
saddled and was waiting impatiently.
“Gawdamighty, Hunch!” he grumbled.
“I could of been halfway out there! You
sure do take your time!”
“Well, it taken the good Lord six days
to shape up a little ol’ chunk of mud we
live on, didn’t it?”
Once in the saddle, the three riders
wasted no time, and only once did Oliver
delay them. That was when, near Berrendo
Springs, they came pretty close onto a
bunch of antelope, and the dog took after
them. For that sally, Oliver got a severe
scolding, a less severe whipping—and a
ride, for his run had him temporarily so
badly winded that Hunch had to carry him
on the saddle.
It was hardly mid-afternoon when they
pulled up at Gus Beckler’s hut near the
foot of Costilla Piedra (Rock-Ribbed)
Mesa. The hut was an old jacal of upright
poles daubed with mud, used over a period
of years by first one prospector and then
another. It stood, so far as Hunch knew, on
public domain, but between its periods of
human occupation, old Jesus Maria
Jaramillo’s goats had used it for shade or
shelter. Now it was neatly repaired and
orderly. Hunch looked at a patch nearby
that seemed to be meant for a vegetable
garden, and grinned.
“Don’t look like goats an’ a garden git
along very good together, Beckler,” he
commented. “Couldn’t you fence ‘em
“Hell no!” said Beckler, batting his
eyes. “I give it up!”
“If it’d been me,” observed Bug-Eye, “
‘bout the second goat visit to my garden,
I’d of had me some mutton!”
Beckler shrugged, starting to unsaddle
his mule. “I don’t eat mutton. Besides I’m
up here tryin’ to find me a mine, not
trouble. You don’t need me to go with
you, Sheriff? I don’t like to mix into this
no more’n I have to.”
“Why, no, I reckon not. ‘Course you
know you’re liable to have to testify
against ol’ Santiago in court when the time
“I’ll be there,” said Beckler. He
scowled, his heavy glance following
Oliver as he cruised about the place, then
looked up at the banty law officer on his
tall roan horse. “But I won’t testify aginst
Tafoya nor nobody else. I’ll tell what I
seen, that’s all! You fellers comin’ back
this way?”
“Depends on how things turn out.
Might hit here about supper time”—Hunch
winked—“if we got invited!”
“Supper?” An odd look not unlike
embarrassment came into the prospector’s
heavy-lidded eyes. “Sheriff, the fact is—
well, the fact is I ain’t got much to offer in
the way of grub. Ain’t time to bile beans,
“We ort to of shot one of them
antelope,” grinned Bug-Eye.
“Don’t let it fret you, Beckler,” said
the sheriff kindly. “I was only joshin’
about supper! Heah, Oliver! Let’s go!”
Coming up the draw toward the foot or
the Mesa, Beckler had pointed out the
particular rocky, sparsely brushed sideridge on which he had left the body of the
goat man. They found it without difficulty,
apparently lying as it had fallen, except
that Beckler had covered it with juniper
boughs against sun and buzzards.
“Looks like ol’ droopy-eyes could
anyways have carried him down to the
shack,” grunted Bug-Eye as they
examined the body. “He don’t weigh
nothin’ hardly.”
Hunch shook his head.
“Nobody ain’t supposed to move a
dead body like this till the law views it,”
he said.
“I never knowed that before,” said
Bug-Eye. “I wonder how ol’ droopy-eyes
happened to?”
“Wonderin’,” said Hunch dryly, “is
good for you.”
Jesus Maria Jaramillo had been shot
twice; once through the meat of his thigh
and once in the region of the heart. His
own battered old carbine, with a fired shell
still in the chamber and another empty
glinting in the sun nearby, lay with its
stock still gripped in gnarled brown
fingers. Hunch looked down at the
wizened body of the stooped, ferret-eyed
old goat a man who had long been his
friend, and sighed.
“Pore ol’ ‘Sus. I reckon him an’ his
goats was kinder of a nuisance sometimes,
an’ I reckon he was kinder loco in the head
about them land boundaries him an’ ol’
Santiago was always fussin’ over, but he
never done nothin’ to deserve this.”
The whole steep skirt of the Mesa was
too rock-ribbed for tracks to show much,
and of course there was goat sign
everywhere. What little other sign they did
find in the way of scuffed or turned over
stones seemed to verify the scene as
Beckler had described it, even to the man
running off down the hill at a westward
slant toward the ranchito of Santiago
Tafoya. At one point Hunch examined
fragments of quartz broken-off by a
prospector’s hammer. But these already
showed the weathering of a week or more.
“Yup,” sighed Hunch in response to
Bug-Eye’s question, as they packed the
body as gently as possible on the deputy’s
pony, “this here is part of the strip them
two viejos have been quarrelin’ over for
the past twenty years. The way them old
Spanish records are, nobody knows who it
sure enough belongs to, but they both
claimed it. Not worth a cent an acre for
anything but goat range an’ not over ten
cents for that, yet both them ol’ Mexkins
been threatenin’ to shoot the other ‘un if
he didn’t keep off of it, ever since ‘Sus
first brung his goats over the mountain.
Only I always had a hunch it was just
another case of ‘Mucho gritar, poco
pelear’—‘Big holler, little fight’. I wonder
what’s become of them goats?”
From Beckler’s shack they had slanted
westward up the hill. Now they came
straight down to the ‘dobe-and-rock hut of
old ‘Sus. Westward another half mile
around the foot of the Mesa lay the
meadows and rocky corn-patches of
Santiago Tafoya’s ranchito.
“No use hoss-backin’ this body all
over the hind end of hell,” said Hunch.
“‘Sus ain’t got no kin this side the
mountain, but he was a Penitente, and
we’ll git word to the Hermano Mayor at
Agua Limpia an’ the Brotherhood will
‘tend to buryin’ him. Meanwhile let’s just
leave him inside here on his own bunk.”
PPARENTLY nothing in the cabana
had been disturbed. From a crudely
carved wooden santo in a wall niche,
Hunch picked up a piece of freshly broken
quartz. Outside he paused to examine it in
the slanting sunlight.
“Gawdamighty, Hunch!” snorted BugEye, swinging to the saddle. “What you
tryin’ to do—give ol’ Santiago time to git
plumb outa the country? Let’s go git him
arrested an’ have it over with!”
When they rode over the low ridge just
back of Santiago Tafoya’s house, they saw
what had become of the dead man’s
twenty-odd goats; they were in Santiago
Tafoya’s cornfield, and a shouting,
cursing, sparse-whiskered, stocky built old
man in a faded blue jumper and high
crowned black sombrero was trying to
drive them out of the field into his corral.
There was no sign of any of Santiago’s
numerous family about the house, and his
only helper with the goats was a brown
mongrel dog, apparently doing more harm
than good with his excited yapping.
Suddenly, from behind Hunch’s horse,
sounded an eager whine and a streak of
black and white flashed down the hill as
Oliver sped to join the fun.
“Back!” shouted Hunch, but his
command went unheeded.
Even if he wasn’t doing much good
himself, the brown mongrel evidently
resented any offer of strange canine
assistance. A minute later the banty sheriff
ripped his shirt crawling through the
barbed wire fence and joined the excited,
sweating old Mexican in trying to stop the
dog-fight. Santiago already had his own
dog by the heels, and Hunch grabbed for
Oliver’s. But somewhere in both dogs’
uncertain ancestry there must have been
the taint of some philandering bulldog, for
neither would let go his hold.
“A la acequia!” yowled Santiago. “To
the deetch weeth heem!”
Dunking in the irrigation ditch stopped
the fight all right, but the ditch bank was
slippery, and both old men slid in with
Old Hunch climbed out muddy and
dripping but grinning, dragging Oliver
with him by one hind leg. Santiago gave
his pooch a kick that sent him yelping to
the house, and climbed out snuffing and
snorting like an old scrub bull.
“That Jesus of the goats!” he puffed.
“Naxt time she’s put hees cabras in my
corns I gonna shot heem too dead for mak’
a water!”
Suddenly he remembered his manners.
“Excuse me, please, my friend,” he
said in well modulated Spanish, putting
out his right hand and giving his dripping
nose a swipe with the other, “How passes
everything with you?”
Hunch touched palms with him in the
limp Spanish fashion.
“Not very good, amigo,” he said.
“Let’s go to the house.”
Old Santiago gave a regretful look at
the goats scattering over his cornfield
again, and came along.
Bug-Eye opened a wire gate for them
to come out.
“Y’see, Hunch,” he told-you-so’ed, “I
told you not to bring that dang dog! Look
at yuh—you’ll ketch pneumony!”
“Com’ esta, Senor Bogs-Eyes?”
Santiago put out his still muddy hand.
Bug-Eye took it—and held on,
bringing a pair of handcuffs from his
pocket with his left.
“Com’esta?” he grunted. “Shall I clip
the hobbles on him, Hunch?”
Already in none too good a humor, old
Santiago’s obvious effort to accept this, as
a joke was not very convincing.
“This shereefs—alla time make fun,
“Never mind the irons, Bug-Eye. I
wish it was just fun, Don Santiago. Let’s
go to the house!”
The Mexican shrugged.
“Sometheeng is that you don’t
onderstand myself,” he grunted and came
A wagon stood in the yard, with the
harness dropped on the doubletree. Hunch
paused to look at it. The sweat on the
horse-collars was dry, yet obviously
today’s sweat.
“Don Santiago,” said Hunch gravely,
speaking in Spanish to make sure he was
thoroughly understood, “you don’t have to
answer anything I ask you—now—and
I’m required by law to warn you that
anything you say may be used against you.
But I’m asking you anyhow. Where you
been in the wagon?”
“Caramba! What kind a make fonny
beezness are those?” exclaimed the viejo
with a sudden look of fear in his eyes, then
lapsed into Spanish.
“Yesterday I took the family to the
fiesta—St. James’ day—at Agua Limpia.
There the old woman wanted to stay today
also to visit her cousin, but I have a cow to
milk, so when the dance was over, I came
on home alone. Tomorrow I go back for
“Like hell!” grunted Bug-Eye
impatiently. “Tomorrow you’ll—”
“Here, Bug-Eye,” broke in Hunch
dryly, pulling a soiled chunk of hard-taffy
from his pocket, “I brung this along for
Oliver, but it’ll do for you to lick if your
tongue needs exercise! Now, Don
Santiago, what time did you get home
“Very early of the morning, Senor
Honch. Already before the sunrise I have
milked the cow. Then I am very tired and
go to bed. A little while ago I wake up—
and find those sons of he-goats goats are
eating my corns. Always, amigo, it is
something of trouble from those cabras of
Jesus Maria! Every time I swear that some
day this old son of a he-goat, I will kill
him. This time—”
“Yuh see, Hunch?” growled Bug-Eye.
“He practickly admits—”
“Your rifle, Don Santiago,” Hunch s
went on quietly. “Is it in the house? I want
to see it.”
The fearful look in Don Santiago’s
eyes was gradually becoming sullen and
resentful. But he shrugged and opened the
low door, bowing them in politely.
Hunch moved spryly across the lowceilinged room with its spotless whitewashed walls and picked up the battered
.30-30 carbine standing in the far corner
beside a rumpled bed. He sniffed at the
barrel. Then he stepped outside, held the
opened breech up toward the sinking sun
and looked through. The inside of the
barrel looked a little smudgy. He levered
three cartridges out of the magazine,
levered again and when no more came,
shook his head sadly. In a full magazine
there should have been six. He sniffed the
gun barrel again. When he turned to old
Santiago, at whose back Bug-Eye hovered
watchfully, he saw that there was real fear
in the viejo’s dark eyes now.
“Old man,” he said soberly, “this gun’s
been fired today—three shots!”
Santiago shrugged sullenly.
“Thass right, Senor Hunch. The forst
twice shoots I don’t keel him!”
“Don Santiago,” Hunch spoke more
sharply now, “you are under arrest!
Dammit, why did you do it?”
“Pues, when a man needs meat, Senor,
does he stop to consider—” he broke off
suddenly. “Leesten! Those damn dog—”
E started as if to run around the
corner of the house whence came the
slathery-snarling sound of dogs fighting
again. Whether the old man intended only
to stop the dog-fight or to run away, BugEye evidently didn’t mean to take any
“No you don’t, Mister!” he said, and
whacked Don Santiago suddenly on the
head with his pistol barrel, dropping him
like a pole-axed steer.
Don Santiago still hadn’t come to
when Hunch got the dog-fight stopped and
came back from behind the house with a
bloody, somewhat cowed Oliver in tow.
“You didn’t have no business hittin’
him thataway, Bug-Eye,” Hunch’s dry
voice was sharp. “You know what I found
hangin’ up to a viga on the north side of
the house?”
“Supposin’ he’d got away?” grumbled
Bug-Eye. “He’s knocked out, anyhow.
What? Diapers?”
“A fresh killed antelope,” said Hunch.
“Santiago must have shot it on the way
home from Agua Limpia, which would
account for his dirty gun barrel an’ that
short load in the magazine.”
“So what?”
“Nothin’—maybe. But Bug-Eye, I’ve
got a hunch that’s what the ol’ coot was
talkin’ about when he said ‘the forst twice
shoots don’t keel him.’ I got a hunch he
thought we was arrestin’ him for violatin’
that new law aginst shootin’ antelope outa
“Gawdamighty, Hunch!” exploded
Bug-Eye. “You still tryin’ to persuade
yourself this ol’ booger didn’t murder
‘Sus? Ain’t he admitted he’d been aimin’
to kill him sometime? Ain’t he admitted he
was back here from the fiesta early enough
to of done it? Ain’t he wearin’ a black hat
an’ blue jumper—an’ no red shirt, just like
the feller Beckler saw?”
“That’s right, he is, ain’t he? Still I got
a hunch—”
“Hunches,” observed Bug-Eye, “ain’t
“You ort to have been a lawyer,” said
the banty sheriff dryly. “All right. I reckon
we’ll have to take him in on suspicion—if
you ain’t already killed him. You better
hitch up his wagon to haul him in—since
you fixed him so he ain’t able to straddle a
horse. First fetch me a dipper of water.”
“Okay,” said Bug-Eye. “But
sometimes I wonder what am I around
here, a deppity or a flunky!”
“You,” observed Hunch aridly, “are
the feller that socks ‘em when they start to
T WAS getting well into dusk, with
darkness inching rapidly in upon them,
when they reached Beckler’s shack on
their way out. Bug-Eye was driving the
wagon with their prisoner bedded down in
the box as comfortably as possible on
straw and sougans, groaning but not yet
completely conscious. Hunch rode ahead
scouting wagon-passage on the rough,
long-abandoned road that had once served
as a neighborly link between old Santiago
and his vecinos in the long ago before
Jesus Maria Jaramillo had come over the
mountain with his goats, and the feud over
land boundaries had started. There was a
shorter route they might have taken but
Hunch had overruled it in favor of this
Beckler evidently heard them coming.
He was standing in the door, outlined
against the yellow light of a kerosene
“Git your man, Sheriff?” he inquired.
“He’s in the wagon,” said Hunch.
“What’d he do—own up to it?”
“Well, not exactly. But he acted kinder
“Started to make a break for it,”
volunteered Bug-Eye from up on the
wagon seat, “so I cammed him down with
a hawgleg barrel. What’s that I smell—
“Yeah, I figgered you might stop by.
Sorry I sounded so inhorsepitable
‘safternoon. Fact is there ain’t nothin’ but
biskits an’ lick. Beans on bilin’ but they
ain’t done yet. You fellers come in?”
“Why, I reckon a cup of coffee
wouldn’t go bad!” Hunch’s old knees
popped audibly as he swung down from
the tall horse. “You sure you ain’t got no
dog around for Oliver to fight with?”
“Hell, no!” laughed Beckler. “I never
was much of a hand for dogs, Sheriff.
Come in!”
“Hitch the team, Bug-Eye, an’ git you
some coffee. I’ll fetch a cup out an’ see if I
can pour it down ol’ Santiago. It might at
least revive him so he won’t die on us
before we git around to hangin’ him!”
Bug-Eye was startled to hear Hunch
laugh. It was the first sign of cheerfulness
the sheriff had betrayed for hours. The
deputy climbed down, rein-hitched the
docile pony team to a wheel and went
“Ain’t you fellers afeered your
prisoner will quit you?” inquired Beckler.
“Oh, no,” Bug-Eye grinned and
winked. “We left Oliver out there to watch
him, didn’t we, Hunch?”
But the banty sheriff’s mind seemed to
be on other matters. He was explaining to
Beckler that he would see to it that the
county paid off whatever was due him for
his trip to town to report the goat-man’s
Still chattering away like, a human
blue-jay, Hunch passed the table and
reached down a .30-30 carbine from a
cedar-limb rack on the wall.
“Right nice little gun, ain’t it?” he
chattered. He levered it open, tore a piece
of white paper from a pocket-worn
notebook and stuck it in the breech, then
held the muzzle up to his eye and squinted
through the barrel toward the yellow lamp
flame. His nostrils quivered faintly,
sniffing; but the only smell they got was
the clean smell of gun oil, and the inside
of the barrel shone like polished silver.
“Keep it mighty clean, too, I notice.”
“Yeah,” said Beckler, “they rust on
you if you don’t, when you ain’t shootin’
‘em very often.”
Unnoticed, Hunch rammed the end of
his little finger into the magazine-loading
slot—far enough to satisfy himself that the
magazine was full—then put the gun back
on its rack.
Meanwhile Beckler had poured two tin
cups of coffee.
“Ain’t got but two cups,” he
Hunch took one of them and stepped
outside with it.
“Ay! Por dios!” mumbled a groaning
voice in the wagon. “Por matar un
In the semi-darkness Hunch saw
Oliver coming from Beckler’s garden
patch with something in his mouth. Hunch
set the coffee cup up on the wagon seat,
stooped and took it from him. Even in that
poor light he could see it was part of the
foreleg of a small, hoofed animal. He ran
his fingers over it, and sucked in a sudden
The leg bone had been cut off squarely
about ten inches from the hoof, as if with a
saw or axe, and though grimy with soil,
seemed fairly fresh.
“Beckler,” Hunch called, making his
tone casual. “I wish you’d step out here a
When the man came to the door
Hunch held out the fragment of leg in the
scant light streaming past him.
“Beckler,” he said, softly, “look what
my dog just dug outa your garden patch! I
thought you said you didn’t eat mutton?”
Almost imperceptibly the lank man in,
the doorway stiffened. Then he laughed.
“That’s right,” he said easily, “I don’t.
But that ain’t a goat leg. That’s off an
antelope I shot last week.”
“You sure it ain’t off a goat? For if it’s
antelope, I’ll have to arrest you, Beckler,
for violatin’ the game law!” Hunch’s
usually dry voice sounded as soft—and yet
as tough—as a much used saddle string.
“The hell!” There was plainly
something of shock in Beckler’s
exclamation. “Damn the game law!
Anyhow that there’s a—” he hesitated.
“Goat?” queried the sheriff. “Or
Beckler leaned deliberately against the
left door jamb. He laughed, albeit
somewhat ruefully. “I might as well admit
it an’ take my medicine, Sheriff. A little
fine for violatin’ the game law ain’t worth
tryin’ to lie out of, I reckon. It’s antelope.
What’s it liable to cost me, Sheriff?”
“Your neck, Beckler!” As he spoke the
banty sheriff stepped back out of the ray of
light, hand on his gun. “For the charge is
murder! Reach high, Beckler!”
UIETLY as it was spoken, the
sheriff’s accusation seemed to hit
Beckler like the sudden jab of a sharp
knife into tender flesh, startling all selfcontrol and reasoned pretense out of him.
Timed with a fearful oath, his right hand
jerked swiftly to the inside of his shirt and
came out shooting. For one swift-flung
shot to have hit the meager figure of
Hunch McElroy out there in the darkness
would have been a miracle. And there
wasn’t any second shot. For whatever else
his faults, the young deputy called BugEye was never slow to action. The smack
of his gun barrel descending on Beckler’s
skull from behind, downed him like a
pole-axed steer.
Standing over him, Bug-Eye ran a big,
puzzled hand through his own hair.
“Gawdamighty, Hunch! Whyn’t you
warn me you aimed to jump this wolf, so I
could of been ready to help you?”
“I ain’t never caught you unready yet,
Bug-Eye,” said the sheriff soberly.
“Besides, I didn’t know myself that I was
goin’ to jump him till Oliver handed me
this goat foot and Beckler lied an’ tried to
make me think it was antelope!”
“Supposin’ he did? I don’t see how
that proves him a murderer!”
“Wolf hair on the wire fence don’t
prove who slaughtered the sheep, neither,”
twanged Hunch dryly. “But it’ll do to call
a jury on! Try addin’ this up, Bug-Eye:
Why did Beckler kinder hesitate about
invitin’ us for supper—when he’d already
said he didn’t eat mutton? Was he afraid
we’d find out that mutton was all the grub
he had, an’ suspect that he’d been shootin’
ol’ ‘Sus’ goats? You know it ain’t but a
few steps from shootin’ another man’s
livestock to a shootin’ scrape with the
owner. Besides, we saw where Beckler
had been prospectin’ on land ol’ ‘Sus
considered his, and was touchy about.
Prob’ly ‘Sus had ordered him off. But with
‘Sus dead, he could prospect where he
damn pleased. Now maybe you can figger
why Beckler would rather have paid a fine
for violatin’ the game law than admit this
was a goat leg Oliver dug out of his
“Hell,” grunted Bug-Eye, reaching for
the segment of foreleg, “how’d you know
this ain’t off an antelope—’specially out
there in the dark?”
“I had a hunch from the start,” went on
Hunch, deliberately ignoring the question,
“that Santiago and ol’ ‘Sus had been
threatenin’ each other too long for it to
come to a head all of a sudden now—
’specially in a long distance rifle fight like
Beckler described. In the heat of a face to
face quarrel, o’ course, it could of
happened. But even thataway—’Sus an’
Santiago was brother Penitentes—
Hermanos de la Luz. Besides—”
“I be danged if I can see why this ain’t
off an antelope,” broke in Bug-Eye,
studying it in the yellow light. “It’s so
dirty you can’t—”
“Besides,” persisted Hunch, “Beckler’s
gun was too dang freshly cleaned an’
oiled. An’ furthermore—”
“Ay! Por dios!” groaned Don Santiago
querulously, suddenly sitting up in the
wagon bed. “Where am I yourself, Senor
“Take it easy, viejo.” Hunch reassured
him. “You bumped your head on the
corner of the house when you run to stop
the dog-fight-remember? We’re just takin’
you to the doctor.”
“Ain’t you even gonna arrest Santiago
for shootin’ that antelope outa season,
Already Bug-Eye was dragging the
unconscious Beckler out of the doorway,
getting ready to load into the wagon his
second gun-barrel victim of the evening.
“No, I ain’t,” declared the banty
officer cheerfully, grabbing Beckler’s foot
to help lift him. “I got a hunch that lookin’
at that illegal antelope of his reminded me
of something I might have forgot to
remember. Namely, that antelope ain’t got
no dew-claws—like a goat has. You
reckon you can haul in the freight, BugEye, so me an’ Oliver can be gittin’ on to
“You go ahead,” grinned Bug-Eye.
“But Oliver—that there deputy is entitled
to ride in the wagon!”

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