Chapter XXII MAC SETS 'EM UP

MAC was a cow man.

As he sat near the cattle pens at Nogales listening to the bawling of the steers, the last of which were being hazed into the cars by his punchers, he looked the part. Fully six feet tall with broad shoulders and flat back, he tapered to a horseman's narrow waist. His leathery tanned face with the little wind wrinkles in the corners of his eyes wore a smile under the broad brim of his dust-colored hat as he realized that the job was done. The beef in those cars, plus that which had gone before, represented what Mac termed a damned good year.

As the door of the last car slammed shut Mac shook the reins a bit, then turned his horse toward the chutes. "All right, boys," he called. "Let's get going. I'm headed for the bank, then I'll meet you in the plaza. We'll spend the next couple days sluicing some of this dust out of our throats."

He turned his horse and moved off at a canter toward the town, laughing at the burst of talk that broke loose behind him as the cow-punchers prepared for their first real party in months. All signs pointed to a noisy evening for Nogales.

Mac rode to the edge of town, left his horse at a corral and walked on down to the bank. There he deposited the money received for his steers, holding out about $1,000 with which to pay his men and, as he phrased it, "to give the boys a little party." Then he went to the plaza to wait for his crew.

It was not a long wait. Fresh from six months or more on the range with infrequent chances for relaxation the punchers were already gathered there waiting for the "Old Man" to pay off. Mae called the cowboys around him and with notebook in hand advanced each of them a portion of his pay.

"Now listen," he said. "You hooligans watch yourselves and keep out of trouble. If you need any more money look me up at the Buckhorn saloon across the line. If you're not too drunk you may get it. In the meantime I intend to do a little serious celebrating myself, but first of all I'm going to get cleaned up a bit.  Adiós."

Jack Van Ryder drawing of horses tied up by railroad cars

The punchers started to see the town and Mac went to a hotel.

Bathed and freshly clad he made for the border and Nogales, Mexico. Like the punchers he too was ready for a little relaxation.

At the Buckhorn as a precautionary measure he cut out about fifty dollars from the roll he had left and placed $750 in charge of the proprietor to be placed in the safe and issued to him as he needed it. Experienced in border practices, he decided that too much money in one pocket might be detrimental to peace and happiness.

"Here, Pascual," he said, "tuck this roll away and give me a slip for it."

"Very good Señor Mac," replied the saloonkeeper as he gave Mac a receipt for $750. "And now let's have a drink?"

"Yep," said Mac. "And call up the gang. This one is on me."

The evening so far as he was concerned was well under way. As it progressed Mac found several friends, men of the range, whom he had not seen in some months and with them he tested the best the Buckhorn could produce. Then he went on a tour of the town. Other friends were located and the party grew. It was impartial as to trade, never missing a stop. It really was turning into a big night.

Several times Mac returned to the Buckhorn to replenish his pocket-book, each time drawing a small amount of the money he had left with Pascual.  On one such trip Pascual, in answer to Mac's request for funds, regretfully spread his hands and shrugged. "But Señor Mac you have used it all. There is no more money," he said sadly.

"Surely I haven't put that much away this early in the game?"

"But yes," the saloon-keeper assured him. "You have spent it fast."

"Maybe you're right," said Mac. "But it sure was expensive drinking. Say, what do you want for this place anyway? It might be cheaper to buy it than to drink here."

"You mean to buy the whole saloon?"

"What'll you take for the whole outfit? Speak up. I'll buy it."

"Well if you are in earnest we will see," said Pascual. "The stock she is worth about $700. The place is leased but the furniture and the fixtures she is mine. She is worth about $300 more." Pascual shrewdly estimated his market.

"All right," Mae agreed. "I'll give you $1000 for the works. Make out a bill of sale and I'll give you the check."

Pascual wrote out a transfer of title and Mac, using the bar for a desk, wrote out a check on a Nogales, Arizona, bank for $1000. The trade was made and Mac, waving the occupants of the saloon to the bar, called out: "Well, let's go. Drinks are cheaper now. Step up fellows and say what you want. It's my deal."

Behind the bar the new owner served his guests. In front of the bar a hilarious crowd cheered him on as he poured drinks and slid bottles along the glistening surface. In only one respect did the occasion differ from a rush evening in any busy café. Now everything was on the house. Not once was the cash-drawer opened.

All night long the party grew as the word spread that Mac had bought a saloon and was giving it away a bottle at a time. Cattlemen and cowmen who were there at the start of the epic spree were soon equaled in number by many who had never before heard of Mac but would never forget him again.

Pascual, content with his deal, viewed the rapidly diminishing stock and smiled as he shrugged his shoulders. His only regret was that he thought he had underestimated the effect of Mac's earlier drinking.

"If I only had known then I could have got much more money, he told a friend.  "The whole business she is not worth more than $500. But this cowboy she is crazy. Pretty soon she go broke. Then I can buy the place back for only a little.

"I, Pascual, am a smart one. That fool cowboy did not even know how much dinero he left in the safe nor how much he spent with his friends."

The night passed swiftly. It was, as Mac predicted, a big evening. Never before in that part of the country had there been a host so free-handed as Mac nor guests thirstier or more hilarious. From the viewpoint of every one the party was a success.

As dawn appeared the shelves behind the bar of the Buckhorn looked like the devastated path of a swarm of locusts. Not one bottle remained unbroached. Long since every chair in the place had been filled by some customer who had found it easier to do his drinking sitting down, since his legs refused to behave when he attempted to stand.

In the street outside the curb was lined with vocalists who serenaded the dawn in dulcet Spanish  as they liberally wet their vocal chords with beer donated by the free-handed Señor Mac. Even Pascual, invited by his successor to partake in the festivities, was in fine voice.

Only Mac himself retained any sign of sobriety, but as the sun rose Mac was cold sober.

After the last roistering celebrant had gone his way Mac started back for the American side of the line. He went to his hotel, bathed, shaved and then walked to a restaurant for breakfast.

His hunger satisfied, he glanced at the clock and mentally noted that enough time remained before he would need to be downtown; so he strolled on to the corral where his horse was stabled and found that his mount had been fed and watered. After a short chat with the stableman he saddled up, paid his bill and rode back toward the downtown area.

There as the "Closed" sign on the door of the bank was reversed and the doors swung open for the business of the day Mac became the first customer.  He walked to the cashier's desk and called a greeting to the man sitting there.

"Howdy, Mac," said the cashier. "I hear you went into the saloon business last night in a big way. It must have been some party."

"Yep," said Mac. "You should have been there. It was a big evening. But I guess that today I'll go back to the cow business. There's more money in it."

"Now that you own the saloon what are you going to do with it?" the cashier wanted to know.

"Well," said Mac with a twinkle in his gray Scotch eyes, "that's what I dropped in to see you about. You see Pascual thought I was drunk last night and he tried to jigger me out of about $700. But I wasn't quite that drunk. So I just let him think he got away with it and then bought his darned place. I gave him $1000 for it. I figured the stock was worth about $500 and the fixtures about $300. He'll get the furniture and the fixtures back. But the stock is gone-so that makes us even.

"I just stopped in to tell you to stop that check."

Continue with Chapter XXIII THE RECIPROCITY OF LI SAM