Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The carriage let them out near a broad expanse of tables on an old playing field. Dell trotted eagerly toward the food line, with barely a wave of her hand to the others. For a moment, Boeing hung back, waiting to see if he could escort Diana to the buffet, but she stuck so closely to Amalia's side that after a few minutes he wandered off in search of a bartender.

"Go mingle," Amalia said. "You won't learn anything new by spying on me."

"I want to find Sputnik," Diana said. "I need to know where the horses are staged."

It sounded like an excuse. It was unlikely anyone would try to pull a trick at this sort of gathering, with everyone under truce and so many opportunities to get information, but Amalia was always telling Diana to think things through and have a plan, so she let the matter go. "Come on then. I'm looking for Patton, and I'm sure when I find him, Sputnik will be nearby." She gave Diana a critical look. "Don't wear your shawl like that. You look like an old lady."

Diana pouted and let the shawl drop to her elbows, exposing her cleavage. "Is that better?"

"Yes. You'll get noticed now."

As they moved through the crowd, men smiled and stared. Some moved out of her way while others moved in close and pretended to accidentally bump into her. Women gazed enviously at her dress and with poorly concealed jealousy at the men who followed her with their eyes, but as long as she stayed close to Amalia, no one spoke to her. Knowing it was her duty, Diana forced herself to smile, but she was glad when they finally found Patton, Libertad and Sputnik. Although there was a flicker of the same appreciative light in Sputnik's eyes that she had seen among the men in the crowd, this time she felt safe and didn't mind the attention.

"You look lovely," Patton told her, taking her arm and giving her a fatherly peck on the cheek. "You'll do a good job spying for us tonight, I hope. I would be especially grateful if you would try to listen in on the Apaches, since I have no one else tonight who knows their language."

"The dialect I'm familiar with is a pretty obscure one," she confessed, "But it's similar enough to Mescalero that I can usually get the gist of what they're saying."

"Good. Can I count on you to be my Mata Hari?"

Diana wasn't sure who Mata Hari was, but his meaning was clear. She turned to Sputnik, offering her most disarming smile. "I was hoping you could show me where our horses are. Just in case."

"Of course," Sputnik said, as if going to see the horses was a realization of his fondest dream. He gave Diana his arm, and she, flattered at this first experience of being treated like a lady, let him lead her away.

Amalia watched them go, an odd smile playing about her lips.

"It's a funny feeling to see our girls grow up," Patton said.

"She isn't exactly my daughter, but I don't think I could love her more if she were."

"I know the feeling," Patton said, with a glance toward Libby.

Libertad ducked her head. "You're always looking out for me, even when you don't need to."

"Old habits die hard. Who are you keeping an eye on tonight?"

"México Lindo, of course. My Isleta contact, Musade, hinted she's learned something about their recent movements. She thinks we're right that there's collusion going on between Morton and the townspeople of Salado to take over the rail line. I'm going to talk to her first and take things from there."

"Good. We've always found the Isleta to be reasonable. It would be nice if we had a stronger alliance with them." He looked at Amalia. "Doesn't your unit have an Isleta?"

"Yes, Sachi. She's half Isleta. She's also half Japanese. She's with Harley in Salado, overseeing the elections."

"Too bad." He turned back to Libertad. "I know you can handle it, and do try to have a good time. All work and no play, you know."

"This kind of work is play." She smiled at Amalia. "I'll keep an eye out for your girl. I can tell she's nervous." With a sashay of her spangled skirt, she moved off into the crowd.

Amalia gazed after her. "She's very astute. Where did you find her?"

"Just another orphan. She came to my camp, begging, many years ago when I was a small unit leader, operating against the Feds. She was twelve years old, no riding, fighting or tracking skills, but so good with languages that she seemed like she could be of use. And she has been. If I'd ever had time to have a daughter, I would've wanted one like her."

"No children of your own, then?"

"None any lady has ever thought fit to tell me about. But all the young people of Unitas are my children, and they give me headache enough."

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

I feel Diana's discomfort and Amalia's love. Good scene.