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A MAN NAMED UTAH
THE SMALL GLOW of the lamp over the hotel register, shaded as it was, threw his cheekbones into high relief and left his eyes hollows of darkness. The night clerk saw only a big man, in dusty range clothes, who signed his name in the slow, cramped manner of a man unaccustomed to the pen. Hibbs handed him his key and the man turned and started up the steps.
As he climbed, the light traveled down over his lean hips and picked out the dull luster of walnut-stocked guns, then slid down to worn boots and California-style spurs. When the heels vanished, Hibbs waited no longer but turned the register and peered at the name. Without another instant of delay he came from behind the counter, cast one quick glance up the stairs, and bustled out the door.
The quick, upward glance did not penetrate the darkness. Had it done so, he would have seen the stranger standing in the shadows at the head of the steps, watching him. When Hibbs hurried across the dark street, the rider was at his window, looking down. The clerk disappeared into an alley.
It was a small thing, but the rider knew the wheels had begun to turn. Already they knew of his presence, and already he had gathered his first fragment of a fact. Somebody was almighty interested in his arrival, and that somebody had a working deal with the hotel clerk. Not much to know, but a beginning.
The clerk had hurried on for several hundred feet then turned and stopped by a window with three inches of opening. He tapped lightly with a coin, and at a cautious response, he whispered, “Hibbs, here. Gent just registered as Utah Blaine, El Paso.”
Disappointed at the lack of reaction, Hibbs waited for something else to be said; then, when it did not come, he added, “He looks salty.”
Hibbs walked slowly back to the hotel. His round, rather querulous face sagged with vague disappointment.
THE MAN BEHIND the darkened window rolled on his side and picked up a carefully prepared cigarette that lay on the table by the bed. When it was lit he lay back, his head on the bunched-up pillow. Against the vague light of the window, the cigarette glowed and he stared up into darkness.
How much longer dared he continue? The pickings were rich, but he was feeling the uneasiness that preceded danger. He had a bag full, no doubt about that. Maybe it was time to pull his stakes.
He knew nothing of Blaine, yet that the man had been asked here was evidence that someone believed he was the man for the job.
Jack Storey had been tough and fast…a drunken miner named Peterson had been egged into shooting him in the back. Three other marshals had preceded him and they were buried in a neat row on the hill. The man on the bed inhaled deeply and knew he had managed well up to now, but his luck was sure to run out.
He had the gold taken from miners, gamblers, and casual travelers and only Hibbs knew who he was, only he knew the murders and robberies had been engineered by one man. And the clerk could be removed.
So he would quit at last. This was what he had planned when he first came west, to work at a quiet job and amass a fortune by robbery and murder—then he would quit, go east, and live a quiet, ordered life from then on.
From the beginning he had known there was a limit. So far he was unsuspected. He was liked by many. His whole plan had depended on the crimes seeming to be unrelated so they would be considered casual crimes rather than a series planned and carried out by either one man or a gang.
Yet it would be foolish to continue. Three marshals…it was too many. Not too many lives, just too many chances. Too many risks of discovery. No matter how shrewd this new man might be, or how dumb, it was time to quit. He would not pull even one more job. He was through. Putting out the stub of his cigarette, he turned over and quietly went to sleep.
A SOLID-LOOKING MAN in a black suit and boots was sitting on the creek bank when Utah Blaine rode up. The new marshal’s sun-darkened face had a shy grin that livened his features. “Hi, Tom! Mighty good to see you.”
“Sure is!” The older man gripped his hand. “Long time since the old days on the Neuces.”
Blaine started to build a smoke. “So, what’re you gettin’ me into?”
Tom Church dug at the sand with a stick. “I don’t really know. Maybe I’m crazy in the head. We’ve had fourteen murders this past year, an’ it worries me some. This here town was started by my dad, an’ he set store by it. We’ve always had the usual cowpuncher shootin’s an’ the like of that, but something’s different. No other year since we started did we have more’n three or four.”
He talked quietly and to the point while Blaine smoked. Nobody in town showed an unusual prosperity. No toughs were hanging around town that couldn’t be accounted for. Nobody left town suddenly. Nobody hinted at secrets. The murdered man was always alone, although in two cases he had been left alone only a matter of minutes. All the murdered men had been carrying large sums of money.
A half-dozen men carrying smaller amounts had left town unhindered; only two of the fourteen had made killings at gambling. Others had worked claims, sold herds of cattle or horses. All fourteen had been killed silently, with knife, noose, or club. Which argued a killer who wanted no attention. “This town means a lot to us. My boys are growin’ up here, an’ two of the men killed were good friends of mine. I think there’s a well-organized gang behind it.”
“Got a hunch you’re wrong, Tom.”
“You think there’s no connection?”
“I think they tie up, but I don’t think it’s a gang. I think it is just one man.”
“Look at it. Nobody has flashed any money and nobody has talked while drunk. That’s unusual for a gang. You know there’s always one wheel that won’t mesh. I’ll get to work on it.”
Tom Church got up and brushed off his pants. “All right, but be careful. We’ve lost three marshals in the last ten months.”
IT WAS TO Utah Blaine’s advantage that he did not make a big show of looking for information. He did not throw his weight around. He let people know that he thought the marshal’s job was mighty easy if people would just let him be. And while he sat around, he listened.
Hibbs at the hotel might be the key. Hibbs had rushed word of his coming to someone, and Blaine had seen the street he went into. For the first four days Utah Blaine strolled about, rode into the hills, talked little, and listened a lot. He heard a good deal of gossip about conditions of the claims, who was making it and who wasn’t. There was talk about cattle and cattle prices. Most of this talk took place on the worn bench outside the barbershop.
It was late on the fourth night that he received his first test as marshal.
Blaine was at a table in a back corner of the saloon when a wide-shouldered young man with red hair smashed through the swinging doors and glared around him. Obviously, he had been drinking, just as obviously, he was not so drunk that his speech was slurred or his reactions slow. “Where’s that two-bit marshal?” he demanded.
“Over here. What’s on your mind?”
The casual tone upset Red Williams, who was trouble-hunting. Nevertheless, he took three quick steps toward Blaine, and Utah did not move. “You’re the marshal? Well, I hear we got to check our guns! You figurin’ to take mine away from me? If you do, get started!”
Blaine chuckled. “Red,” he said conversationally, “don’t you get enough trouble wrestlin’ steers? Why don’t you fork your bronc and head on for home?”
Red Williams was disturbed. It was not going as expected. Instead of being a hard-eyed marshal who immediately started for him, this man talked like another cowhand. “You tellin’ me to get out of town?” he demanded.
“Just advisin’,” Utah replied casually. “If you figure to do a day’s work tomorrow, you better sleep it off.” He pushed his hat back on his head. “I call to mind one time when I rode for Shanghai Pierce. We was—”
“You rode for Shanghai?” Red’s truculence was forgotten.
“Took a herd over the trail for him in ’sixty-seven,” Utah said. “The next year I took one up the trail for Slaughter.”
Red Williams swallowed hard, his stomach sick with sudden realization. “You…you’re that Blaine? The one who stopped the herd cuttin’ north of Doan’s Store?”
“Yeah,” Blaine replied quietly. “That was later.”
“Wow!” Red backed up, suddenly grinning. “Mister, if that’s who you are, this town is off-limits for my kind of trouble!”
Excerpted from "Monument Rock"
Copyright © 1999 Louis L'Amour.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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