Saturday, June 2, 2007


Will and Diana were pleased to be bunking in a cabin for the night.

The roof was gone, but the walls were sturdy and the iron bed frames were still in place, allowing them to sleep off the ground. Amalia had already rolled out their blankets, and Diana bounced on the bed, amused by the way it squeaked.

"Don't do that," Amalia said. "It's rusted in spots and you might fall through."

"Yeah, don't go breaking the furniture," Will added.

"I don't know what you're talking about. I’m not making that noise. Es ratón."

"Es una rata, more like."

"Did you hear what he called me, Auntie? He said I'm a rat."

"More like a brat, if you ask me. Why don't you lie down? You go on watch in a few hours."

Diana dug in her duffel bag, pulled out a pair of high-topped moccasins and placed them at the side of the bed. Then after making sure her flashlight, rifle and canteen were where she wanted them, she tugged off her boots and got under the blankets. Will was a little less particular, but he too had to have his flashlight and rifle within arm's reach, and he slipped a revolver under his pillow.

Amalia sat cross-legged on her bed with a solar lantern by her side. She opened a volume of Shakespeare. Reading had been their evening tradition ever since fate had thrown them together as a family, and Amalia liked to think it made up for some of the education the children never had. Diana burrowed under her blanket and fell asleep almost immediately. Will, who rarely slept well, lay on his back and closed his eyes.

Amalia read until the deep, regular breathing of both her charges assured her they were asleep. She bookmarked her page, then got to her feet and took something out of a canvas bag. As she headed toward the door, Will whispered, "Where are you going?"

"Never mind. You're supposed to be asleep."

Will sat up and noticed the jar of liniment in Amalia's hand. "Harley's back must be hurting again." He stifled a smile and lay back down. "Don't stay out all night, Mother. These beds are only big enough for one."

"Oh, hush." Amalia picked up her lantern and tried to slip out the door with a little dignity. When she had first started going to Harley's bed, she tried to keep the children from finding out, worried what they might think of her sleeping with their unit commander. But there was no keeping secrets from them, and time had proven them supportive and discreet. Their discretion came with a price, though, and that was the right to tease her when they caught her sneaking out at night like a guilty schoolgirl.

As soon as Amalia was gone, Will shook Diana awake. She opened her eyes and frowned. "Don't tell me we're on watch already."

"I thought we wanted to go check out that part of the lake. You know, the part Coyote said—"

Diana sat up. "Right. This is a good time for that, isn't it? Before we go on watch and before anyone else thinks of it." She swung her feet over the edge of the bed and pulled on her boots. "I wonder what it could be?"

"He said it's not dangerous, but that might just mean it's not a danger to our camp. Be sure and take plenty of ammo, in case it's the sort of thing that's dangerous when we find it."

"Maybe we should get some of the others to go with us."

"No, just us two. We can be quieter that way." He looked at her feet. "Wear your ket'age. We want to be quiet."

Diana nodded, pulled the boots off and slipped her feet into her moccasins. "We'll scout it out and give a report," she said, reaching for her pistol and knife. "Then we can get a bigger group and go back."

No sooner were they in the woods, following the overgrown track toward the bend in the lake, when they came upon Coyote. They almost didn't see him, dressed in black and moving stealthily among the bushes.

"What are you doing out here?" Will asked.

"What do you think?"

"I guess we'll all go together," Diana whispered.

"What exactly are we looking for?"

"I'm not sure, but we'll know it when we find it."

"That’s not very helpful." Will started back on the trail.

"Wait," Coyote said. "I'm not sure we should use the path."

"Why not?"

Coyote closed his eyes and sniffed the air, whether for show or because he could actually smell something, wasn't clear. "It's not dangerous. It's just...I don't think you're going to want to be on the trail when we get to it."

Will and Diana looked at each other. "I wish you'd just say what it is."

"I'm telling you, I don't know."

"Well, I'm not afraid of the trail." Diana pushed her way past them and started walking slowly and silently like her friends on the Apache reservation had taught her. With a shrug, Will followed. Coyote shook his head and took to the cover of the trees again.

The trail grew darker, the moon obscured by the thick branches overhead. Diana moved more slowly now, taking each cautious step toe to heel, alert to twigs that might snap under her weight and announce her presence. She couldn't hear Coyote in the woods. She couldn't hear Will behind her, either, but she knew he was there, guarding her back. The thought gave her confidence, even as the woods grew blacker and it seemed she was alone with the darkness pressing in all around.

Her foot touched something soft. She stopped, prodded the thing with her toe, and didn't like the feel of it at all. She tried to move around it, only to walk full-on into another one. It was as big as she was, and as she felt its heavy weight swing away from her, she jumped back, stifling a shriek. A pair of arms clasped her from behind and she opened her mouth to scream, but then realized it was only Will. "Don't—"

The beam of Coyote's flashlight pierced the blackness, nearly blinding them. "Will you look at that."

Diana looked long enough to take in the row of bodies swinging in nooses from the trees. Near her feet was a dead man, still attached to a broken branch.

"Is this it?" Will asked.

Coyote nodded, too pleased at this proof of his skill to be repulsed. He ran the light up and down each body in turn. Some were men, some women, one was only a child. Although it was impossible to tell much about them from their swollen and blackened faces, the color of their hands suggested they were either Indian or Mexican. "I wonder if these are México Lindo people. Or one of the tribal groups."

"We’ll come back in the morning and look for evidence," Will said. "Let's get out of here."

"But maybe they've got money. If it was a racial or political thing, maybe whoever did it was in too big a hurry to—"

Diana saw Coyote dig a hand into a man's pants pocket and curled back her lip in disgust. "How can you even think about that at a time like this?"

"Hey, they have no use for money, but I do."

"I can't imagine Macy's favors are as good as all that." Diana switched on her flashlight and started up the trail, back the way they had come.

"At least she listens to me. And she's no frigid virgin, either!"

Will took a few steps toward him. Coyote had moved on to another body and was tugging at pockets with enthusiasm. "What do you mean by that kind of remark?"

"Well, you know. I try and tell people when I sense things but they never listen."

"We came out here, didn't we? I'm talking about what else you said. If you ever so much as touch her, I’ll—"

"Okay, okay." The boy shrugged and dug a little deeper in a dead woman's pocket. "I thought she was your sister, not your girlfriend. I'll apologize to her first chance I get." His face lit up. "Look at this! Silver!"

Will turned away. "How nice for you."


Alice Audrey said...

Is she really frigid? I took her more for unready, which is not the same thing.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Coyote is just being a brat. Some teenage boys are like that - they'll say things just to provoke a reaction.

Alice Audrey said...

He's certainly the type for it.