McClump and I held a conference on the fly, and then I got a car from the nearest garage and headed for Tavender. We made time going out, and got there before the general store had closed for the night. The stuttering Philo separated himself from the two men with whom he had been talking, and followed me to the rear of the store.
“Do you keep an itemized list of the laundry you handle?”
“N-n-no; just the amounts.”
“Let’s look at Thornburgh’s.”
He produced a begrimed and rumpled account book, and we picked out the weekly items I wanted: $2.60, $3.10, $2.25, and so on.
“Got the last batch of laundry here?”
“Y-yes,” he said. “It j-just c-c-came out from the city t-today.”
I tore open the bundle — some sheets, pillowcases, tablecloths, towels, napkins; some feminine clothing; some shirts, collars, underwear, and socks that were unmistakably Coons’s. I thanked Philo while running back to the car.
Back in Sacramento again, McClump was waiting for me at the garage where I had hired the car.
“Registered at the hotel on June fifteenth; rented the office on the sixteenth. I think he’s in the hotel now,” he greeted me.
We hurried around the block to the Garden Hotel.
“Mr. Henderson went out a minute or two ago,” the night clerk told us. “He seemed to be in a hurry.”
“Know where he keeps his car?”
“In the hotel garage around the corner.”
We were within ten feet of the garage, when Henderson’s automobile shot out and turned up the street.
“Oh, Mr. Henderson!” I cried, trying to keep my voice level.
He stepped on the gas and streaked away from us.
“Want him?” McClump asked; and at my nod he stopped a passing roadster by the simple expedient of stepping in front of it.
We climbed in, McClump flashed his star at the bewildered driver, and pointed out Henderson’s dwindling tail-light. After he had persuaded himself that he wasn’t being boarded by a couple of bandits, the commandeered driver did his best, and we picked up Henderson’s tail-light after two or three turnings, and closed in on him — though his car was going at a good clip.
By the time we reached the outskirts of the city, we had crawled up to within safe shooting distance, and I sent a bullet over the fleeing man’s head. Thus encouraged, he managed to get a little more speed out of his car; but we were overhauling him now.
Just at the wrong minute Henderson decided to look over his shoulder at us — an unevenness in the road twisted his wheels — his machine swayed — skidded — went over on its side. Almost immediately, from the heart of the tangle, came a flash and a bullet moaned past my ear. Another. And then, while I was still hunting for something to shoot at in the pile of junk we were drawing down upon, McClump’s ancient and battered revolver roared in my other ear.
Henderson was dead when we got to him — McClump’s bullet had taken him over one eye.
McClump spoke to me over the body.
“I ain’t an inquisitive sort of fellow, but I hope you don’t mind telling me why I shot this lad.”