The thought that poor Jim Starr, whom I had well liked, had been sacrificed for me, rendered my ride home with the convoy more deeply thoughtful than even the tragic circumstances warranted. We laid his body in the small office, pending Buck Johnson’s return from town, and ate our belated meal in silence. Then we gathered around the corner fireplace in the bunk house, lit our smokes, and talked it over. Jed Parker joined us. Usually he sat with our owner in the office.
Hardly had we settled ourselves to discussion when the door opened and Buck Johnson came in. We had been so absorbed that no one had heard him ride up. He leaned his forearm against the doorway at the height of his head and surveyed the silenced group rather ironically.
“Lucky I’m not nervous and jumpy by nature,” he observed. “I’ve seen dead men before. Still, next time you want to leave one in my office after dark, I wish you’d put a light with him, or tack up a sign, or even leave somebody to tell me about it. I’m sorry it’s Starr and not that thoughtful old horned toad in the corner.”
Jed looked foolish, but said nothing. Buck came in, closed the door, and took a chair square in front of the fireplace. The glow of the leaping flames was full upon him. His strong face and bulky figure were revealed, while the other men sat in half shadow. He at once took charge of the discussion.
“How was he killed?” he inquired, “bucked off?”
“Shot,” replied Jed Parker.
Buck’s eyebrows came together.
“Who?” he asked.
He was told the circumstances as far as they were known, but declined to listen to any of the various deductions and surmises.
“Deliberate murder and not a chance quarrel,” he concluded. “He wasn’t even within hollering distance of that rim-rock. Anybody know anything about Starr?”
“He’s been with us about five weeks,” proffered Jed, as foreman. “Said he came from Texas.”
“He was a Texican,” corroborated one of the other men. “I rode with him considerable.”
“What enemies did he have?” asked Buck.
But it developed that, as far as these men knew, Jim Starr had had no enemies. He was a quiet sort of a fellow. He had been to town once or twice. Of course he might have made an enemy, but it was not likely; he had always behaved himself. Somebody would have known of any trouble——
“Maybe somebody followed him from Texas.”
“More likely the usual local work,” Buck interrupted. “This man Starr ever met up with Old Man Hooper or Hooper’s men?”
But here was another impasse. Starr had been over on the Slick Rock ever since his arrival. I could have thrown some light on the matter, perhaps, but new thoughts were coming to me and I kept silence.
Shortly Buck Johnson went out. His departure loosened tongues, among them mine.
“I don’t see why you stand for this old hombre if he’s as bad as you say,” I broke in. “Why don’t some of you brave young warriors just naturally pot him?”