Read Parts I and II before Part III
The narrator looks to his audience. “Some said—them as weren’t there—we didn’t recognize ‘im, didn’t know who the fella was. When I seen that big buckskin Ed Oliver dragged out’a the Kieger a couple a years back, I knew. And I knew we got trouble!”
Buck’s gaze turn to the boy. His pupils reflect the firelight like obsidian disks. “Ed was a squatter, always mad. Buttin’ heads with Peter to push a road across Pete’s spread to that patch a rocks Ed pretended to farm. Ol’ man diggin’ in his heels in, puttin’ Ed off.”
The stove sputters. Buck’s gaze drops to the cinch, then up to the boy. “Oliver come on like a one-man cavalry. Cursin’. When they met that mustang run right over ol’ Pedro. Knocked ‘im to his knees.”
The old Mexican’s look seems to pierce the darkness. “Peter shouts, ‘I’ll drive ya off!’ I heard ‘im.” On cue the fire pops. He points to the stove, “That plain.”
The voice has an urgency the boy had never before heard. “Ol’ Peter starts whailin’ away with the butt of his bullwhip across that buckskin’s snout.”
Aging fingers grip the edge of the cinch. “When Pedro gets his legs back they weren’t a arm’s length apart. Oliver ain’t done; digs in his spurs for another run. “Peter turns his bullwhip around, swings, catches Oliver right across the snout. Could a took a eye out. Must a smarted like all hell.”
The storyteller looks back to the wall. “Stopped Ed too. Long enough fer Peter to back off.”
Again to the boy, “Dozen paces away French wheels ‘ol Pedro around. Figured fightin’s over I think.
“Before any of us seen it, Oliver pulls out a pistol and fires,” a finger snap,” that quick!”
The man’s gaze drops to the base of the oat bin. A pause.
Matter of fact. “Forty caliber slug caught Peter French below his right eye. Blew a hole the size of a biscuit out the back a his skull. Never knew what hit ‘im. I seen it.”
The stove sputters; again the shelves and workbench quaver.
At last the boy speaks, “What did they do?”
His friend looks up.
“Oliver? Did they catch ‘im?”
The old Mexican releases a sigh. “Run off. Figured we’d chase ‘im I guess. Weren’t nobody heeled. Only gun on the ranch was an ol’ Sharp’s repeater Felix, the cook, carried fer camp meat and coyotes.”
Buck reaches to stroke his knee. “Sheriff took Ed in. Lots of excitement around Burns. Newspapers. People all worked up. Sod-busters said French had it comin’. Cowmen said, ‘Take Oliver out in the sagebrush; shoot ‘im like a mad dog.’
“They was a trial, a jury, mostly farmers, sodbusters, squatters. We said our piece, then as seen it.”
Aged hands stroke the cinch. He leans back, looks to the boy. “They how do they say? ‘Quit ‘im?’ Let ‘im go? Said Oliver never done it?
“He done it alright. I seen ‘im. It was murder.”