EYE OF THE KILLER
by Gardner F. Fox
Originally written for MANHUNT #11 (1948) and published by Magazine Enterprises
HE had come to Buckskin City to kill a man. He looked around the little town, his face bent over a flaring cigarette, the weight of his holstered six-guns low on his thighs. Dave Kelvin had ridden his paint pony in and out of a lot of cow towns from the Chisos Basin to Deadwood, killing men. Sometimes he wore a star-badge, but more often he did not.
Buckskin City was just one more frontier settlement with five times as many saloons as there were general stores. Maybe here his luck would change. Maybe here he would find the man who'd gunned down his father when he was only a button. Maybe—
Ezra Cagle watched Kelvin come in the front door of his lawyer's office with hard eyes. He slipped some papers into a file and folded his hands. He asked, "Well? What can I do for you?"
"I'm Kelvin. Rookabaugh up in Dodge City sent me. Said you had work for a man who wore two guns."
"Oh! Oh, yes. I do have some work. Fellow by the name of Gorman has been in my hair for the past year. He's stirred up a lot of trouble for my friends—him and his Cattlemen's Association. Fact of the matter is, I'll pay a thousand dollars for his death. No questions asked. A safe conduct out of the Territory."
Dave Kelvin let smoke escape from his lips. He smiled wryly. "Those are killers' wages. I'm not a hired killer. Not exactly, that is."
The sunlight flashed on Ezra Cagle's left eye. Kelvin stared at it, fascinated. A sudden thought made his heart pound faster under his double-breasted blue shirt. He leaned closer, but Cagle turned away, went to his safe and tossed the file into it. Closing the door, he twirled the knob.
Cagle said coldly, "Call it what you will. Gorman shot a couple of my men who stopped their horses for a drink on his land. Threatened to shoot the next man of mine who went on his land."
Kelvin nodded grimly. "That's better. If a man shoots at me, I'll gun him down. But I don't hire out to kill in cold blood. You hire me as a ranch-hand. Better, as a bodyguard. I ride out to Gorman's spread. If he shoots, I'll kill him. If he doesn't shoot, I'll hang around town until he makes a play. Fair enough?"
Cagle laughed harshly. "Good enough. I don't care how or why you get him... but get him!"
Kelvin tried to get another look at Ezra Cagle's eyes, but the little lawyer waved a hand, said, "Go ahead. You're working for me. Don't loaf around here. Get out and ... get about your business!"
His business! Dave Kelvin chuckled to him self under the shadow of his big Stetson as he let the pinto canter between the towering sahuaro cacti. His business had been killing, ever since the day his father died in his arms, whispering, "His left eye, Dave. Watch his left eye ... there's a cast... cast..."
For fifteen years he had hunted up and down the sage country for a man with a cast in his left eye. That was his real business. This other thing, this killing tough men who needed killing, was just a sideline. He practiced with his Colts daily, to perfect the deadly accuracy of his gun-hands Waiting! Waiting for the day he found the man with a cast in his left eye.
"Don't know what I'll do with him when I find him, though," he told his pony. “Dad made me swear not to take vengeance. Said the Lord would take His vengeance when He was ready. Can't say as how I favor that, bronc. That's why I keep my gun-hand in..."
The pinto bobbed its head, trotting over the ocotilla-dotted plain. Below them, across a shallow wash, was a thin stream of water. And standing on its far bank, a rifle in steady hands, was a thin-lipped cowboy.
"You aiming to stop me and my bronc from drinking?" asked Dave, with a wry smile.
The cowboy scowled. Then he sneered, "Cagle put yuh up to this. Texas? If yuh want, go for yore gun."
The rifle barrel steadied, lifted. Kelvin laughed shortly. He said, "There's free water all the way from the border up to Canada. You think you can stop thirsty men from drinking?"
"I aim to stop all of Cagle's men! Him an' his killers! He wants to take over us little ranchers here in the Valley. With that cold left eye of his, he's like a hungry snake, just a—settin' there in that office of his, waiting to strike an eat us all up!"
Kelvin said slowly, "That left eye of his now. I noticed it when I was talkin' to him "
"Then yuh are one of his killers! I warned him. I—"
Dave Kelvin moved his gun-hand then. It dropped and lifted, and there was a heavy .45 Colt in it and the gun was bucking and flaming.
He beat the coyboy's trigger-finger. His bullet smashed into the rifle, drove it away from the cursing man's fingers. He said coldly as the man bent for the gun, "Don't you, Gorman. Leave it lay. It's safer for you on the ground."
The man's face was red. He said thickly, "Yuh're faster'n any of the others. Yuh could've killed me. Why didn't yuh?"
"Because I was talkin' about Cagle's left eye. I got a right big interest in left eyes, Gorman. That's why I shot the rifle—instead of you!"
Gorman said dully, "What yuh want to know?"
"Is there a cast in his left eye? Is there?"
"Cast? Shucks, no. That left eye is glass. A glass eye!"
Dave Kelvin started. Glass! He'd never thought of that. He was sure his Dad had said, cast. But if he misunderstood ... if his Dad had said glass and he had mistaken that word for cast! But for fifteen years he had been hunting men with casts, and not with glass eyes...
Kelvin holstered his gun. He nodded at Gorman. "Thanks, hombre. Now I'll tell you something. I've been hunting for a man for a long time. Maybe Cagle is that man. I'm going to ride into town to find out. If he is that man—well, he won't be bothering you any more. But if he isn't—I'll be back ... and this time me an' my pinto will be having a drink!"
Gorman snarled, "You won't have to, Texas. I'm gettin' the other men. We're comin' down to Buckskin City an' have a showdown with Cagle an' his killers."
"Don't be a fool! Cagle has men trained to kill other men. Men like me. You men... husbands and fathers ... have people to worry about." He saw the sneering, doubting look in Gorman's face. He went on coldly, "I'm not running a blazer on you. I mean it. You wait. I'll be back. Then you and I can have this out."
He reined the pinto and kneed him to a gallop. Behind him, Gorman bent and lifted his rifle, swearing as he saw the smashed breech.
Ezra Cagle looked up suddenly as the tall thin gunman slid into the small office. He felt a little pang of fear as he stared into those hard, glinting eyes. He croaked, "What do you want, Kelvin?"
"I want to tell you about a boy and his Dad, Cagle... and a man who nearly killed them both. It was back on the Rafter D spread. You shot the man in the back, and took the little black bag that was hidden under a loose board in the room, and ran. What you didn't know was that there was a boy in the next room—"
Ezra Cagle swore and clawed at the open desk drawer to his left. His hand came up with the gun—
For fifteen years Dave Kelvin had trained his hand for just this moment. For fifteen years he had drawn and fired, drawn and fired, always imagining this man in front of him.
Now he drew and whirled.
His guns were out, and he was facing the doorway, and his guns were bucking and flaming red death. The two men coming in the doorway plunged forward. Little red holes appeared like magic dots in the middle of their chests. A third man stumbled backward, out into the sunlight.
Cagle was shooting at him, but Dave Kelvin was darting sideways, and his left-hand gun barked. The gun slammed out of Cagle's hand and went through the window, shattering glass.
Cagle licked his thin lips. His eyes were wide pools of fear. "Wha—what are you go going to do?"
His gun smoked in his hand. All he had to do was to pull the trigger, and his long search would be over. The man who had gunned his father down would go to meet him...
Kelvin said hoarsely, "I ought to shoot you down as I shot the men you hired to kill me. The men who came in behind me... guns drawn ... ready to shoot me in the back!"
"I didn't hire them to kill you, Kelvin! They— "
"I saw them coming in with their guns out. That glass eye of yours is like a mirror, Cagle. I was lookin' at it all the time I was talking to you. Now—"
He went across to the safe, gave a yank on the handle. The ponderous iron door slid open. Inside the safe there were papers and ledgers, and letters. Dave Kelvin opened one or two, scanning their contents. He grunted with satisfaction.
Cagle sobbed, "I'll pay you a thousand—two thousand dollars ... you can't prove I gunned your Dad down! I—"
Kelvin flipped out the small black bag that was shoved behind some papers in the safe. His voice was cold. "I'd remember that black bag anywhere. You should have thrown it away!"
"It was a good luck charm..."
Kelvin heard the men coming down the street. He whirled, slammed Cagle into the chair behind the desk. He tied him into it with expert fingers. He spread out the papers on the desk, and tossed ledger books and the incriminating letters over them. He stood back and studied the desk and the man behind it with keen eyes.
"It'll do. Gorman and his ranchers will find you like this. They'll find the evidence of your crookedness ... and they'll find you, all ready to be tried, convicted and executed!"
Kelvin went out the window seconds before the angry ranchers came through the front door. There was a grim, satisfied feeling in side him. He had taken vengeance, but he'd done it legally, honestly.
He could hold his head up the rest of his life. He had met the eye of the killer, and had won.