Mark, John and Lonny told the story to Malone and Pete. Malone leaned back in his chair at the corner table in the bunkhouse, his face grim, his jaw muscles working. Tyree leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. Each version sounded much the same, the cowboy had started the fight, drawn first giving Tyree no options.
He listened to them, watching the hardness of Pete’s eyes looking back at him. Malone was soaking it in, withholding judgment until he heard each of them. Pete listened too, but Tyree sensed the judgment was there before they ever started. Tyree didn’t offer up any words, he wasn’t thinking about what Malone might do. Looking across at the jackass table, he saw Tulsa and shivered. Just one word from Tulsa was all it would take. It wouldn’t matter in the least that Riley had started the fight.
The name Allison didn’t mean much to the ranch hands. Probably meant nothing to most of the citizens in Kearney Junction, but someone had known that name and it had come with a reputation, drawing Riley’s fire. He doubted his friends sitting here defending his actions realized why Riley had pushed for the fight. To them Riley had just been a trouble maker. How long before word reached Clem Kettering that someone named Allison had killed someone in a gunfight in Kearney junction?
“Just lie low. The sheriff was there. No doubt you’d be in jail if he had thought you done wrong.” Malone finally said. “Stay out of town. I don’t know this Riley fellow. What outfit did he ride for?”
“Think they were bringing up a herd from Oklahoma or Texas. I heard they had a buyer for some longhorns.” John said.
Tyree pushed away from the wall. They were just speculating now, deciding if they should anticipate some kind of retaliation. Their talk didn’t interest him. He ambled outside and stopped at the arena corral to watch Marcie working one of her mares. She was such a pretty girl. Of all the things he’d wanted, he wanted her the most. It saddened him that she was so far out of reach.
“You prove something to yourself?” Pete asked behind him. “ You happy now that your friends know what you can do?”
“Not what it was about,” Tyree answered. “Last thing I needed, in fact.”
“Your friends in there seem to agree with you. But I seen this coming months ago.”
“You got me all wrong, Pete. I wasn’t looking for trouble.”
“Naw. I know your kind. Trouble comes looking for you.”
Tyree leaned his elbows on the corral poles, looking down at the dirt between his feet. He tried to swallow, but it was tough. There was a lump hung in his throat.
“Barbed wire.” He heard Pete say behind him, not to him, but to Malone.
“What?” Malone asked.
“He’s a little bundle of barbed wire, tough, sharp and all twisted up,” the ramrod said. Tyree’s gut twisted as they walked away. “I figured he’d be trouble.”
Mark barely spoke two words to him in the following days. He focused on work. Once Tyree caught Mark studying him.
“What is it, Porch dog?”
“Something’s eating you.” Tyree pressed.
“I just thought you was… I dunno. I never thought. You killed a man Tyree. It don’t seem like it bothered you much.”
“He was trying to kill me.” Tyree offered.
“I know that. But…” Whatever he’d been about to say he dropped it and shook his head.
“I’m sorry. Sorry you had to see that.”