“What’s your name?”
The bright blue eyes of the tall man darted from the paper he had filled out two days earlier to the inquisitor’s face. If he thought the question superfluous, he did not say so.
“Kiley. Claw Kiley.”
“Claw?” Thomas baited.
“Claudius,” came the polite, almost embarrassed correction. The challenge had gone unanswered.
“How old are you, Mr. Kiley?”
There was an air of military training about him, and more. An innate tact, a respect reserved; the trust it would be reciprocated.
“You wrote here that you deputized with Jack Duvall.”
“When was that?”
“Until the time of his death.”
“Know him well?”
“He was like a father to me.”
No mistaking the sincerity in the avowal. It made the government man want to ask him more.
He saw no sense denying himself the pleasure of speaking to someone who had known Marshal Duvall. Which did not mean he intended to offer him the job, or that he actually believed the startling assertion.
“Were you there when he died?”
“He was gunned down in the street, Mister Kiley. In the performance of his duty. You see the fight?” Kiley nodded. “Was it
No pause, yet behind the curt nod a regret, a hurt. A remembrance of helplessness.
“It was a fair fight.”
“Jack Duvall was the fastest gun alive.”
“He thought so.”
Kiley left the “sir” off the end of his sentence. Thomas noted it.
“The man who killed him was a gunfighter. Red McGee.” The verbalization of the name after so long jogged Thomas’ memory. His mouth went dry and he licked his lips with unaccustomed nervousness. “What happened to him?”
“He was gunned down in the street.”
“Not gunned down, Kiley. Not from what I heard. Called out. Wasn’t that the way it happened?” Kiley shrugged. The fingers of his right hand twitched, as though seeking the feel of a trigger to wrap around. “Called out on the street and shot down. The gunfighter who outdrew the fastest gun alive never lived to tell the tale.”
“Something like that.” An uncomfortable admission.
“Seems as I recall it was the deputy who shot McGee. You were that deputy, Kiley.” Not a question now, but a statement.
“That’s how rumors get started, sir.”
“Red McGee killed the man you thought of as a father, and you challenged him. Wasn’t that how it went?”
“I didn’t say so. Sir.”
“You had an axe to grind.”
Irritation egged him on. Thomas wanted to hear it all. He wanted the tall youth before him to speak. To brag of his extraordinary accomplishment.
“No, sir.” Silence hung over the room long enough for Thomas to plan his next sentence before the youth finished. “I don’t even own an axe.”
Blatant audacity. The Federal man from Washington slapped a hand on the desk.
“Who the hell are you?”
Not ‘Claudius Kiley.’ Not ‘The man who outgunned Red McGee.’ Just ‘Claw Kiley.’
“You’re a gunfighter.”
“I can handle a gun.”
“You think that’s the way to tame a town?”
“I think it’s a middle road.”
“What’s the beginning?”
If Thomas had been smoking a cigar, it would have dropped from his mouth.
“Yes, sir. The duty of a law man is to uphold the law fairly; to see the rules apply to everyone.”
“Is that what Jack Duvall taught you?”
“Among other men.”
Another silence, this one longer, before Claw Kiley answered the interrogative.
“Jim Bennett, Dan Cord. There were more. What difference does it make?”
Claw did not want to discuss his past with these men: not coldly, not unemotionally. Duvall, Bennett, Cord. He could have named a dozen others. If ever a man could claim to have twelve fathers, Claw Kiley was that man. Each, in his own distinctive way, had raised him. Molded him. Made him what he was.