"I heard horses, Lucy!" The words battered the door, loud and aggressive. "What'n hell's happening, for Christ's sake?"
Cole looked at O'Donohue and Sherman, bemused. It was the first time he'd heard Minister McGinley's voice raised in anger.
Lucy McGinley's eyes widened further, her hands clasped one another over her heart. It was obvious to Cole she wanted to reply, but something held her back. He looked quickly at the boys. Samuel's eyes frantically darted from one to another. Zeke's smile disappeared and he spoke.
"We got visitors, Pa."
A key turned a lock and the door handle slowly moved.
I'm a bit scared to talk about this, this thought floating on the lake of my mind like a single flower petal, fragile, beautiful, but vulnerable; it is almost like I'm saying it without meaning to.
My body had stopped aching and I felt stronger but Doc Morris wouldn't let me take the dressing from around my head, and his medicine was revolting. I wanted to complain that Doc was fussing too much: that was really the whole lake of my thoughts, but I knew Grandma wouldn't tolerate any words against him.
She didn't look up from her darning.
No one responded to Sheriff Cole's request.
A dog, faraway in some distant evening, barked once. Outside, the pigs had fallen quiet.
Lucy McGinley's hands outlined a stain on her skirt that only her fingertips were aware of. Her eyes stared hard at the Sheriff, almost glazed, almost but not quite, looking right through him. Zeke stared at his book, his eyes, like his smile, motionless. The silence in the room was broken only by the small, barely audible sound of the metal blade hitting rhythmically against Samuel's palm.
Suddenly an invisible voice boomed from behind the locked study door.
Mickey studied Samuel and Zeke. There was something moon-touched about them. Everybody said so. They'd said so all along, though Mickey had never seen it.
But maybe he was seeing it now.
Zeke, his eyes not having left the book he held, was smiling to himself. Samuel had stood up, and when his mother had come in, he'd stood beside her. He still held the knife. Holding it in one hand he jabbed the point of the blade into the other palm. Occasionally it drew blood, which he wiped away with his fingers. His smile, like Zeke's, never faltered.
"Why are you bothering my boys this time?"
Her voice was high-pitched, her eyes darting from one to another. Her once white blouse carried stains of food from more than one meal.
"We don't want to bother anyone, Mrs McGinley, but we need to talk- "
"Sheriff Cole, there is nothing to talk about. Certainly nothing to interrupt my husband about. And moreover..." she paused, her voice returning to normal, her hands rubbing food stains and dirt onto her grey skirt. "Moreover, he is busy."
"You told us that, ma'am," Cole said, nodding towards McGinley's study door. "May we?"
Zeke and Samuel sat at the kitchen table when Sheriff Cole knocked once on the door and strode in without waiting for an answer.
"Evenin' boys," he said. His voice was monotone, betraying none of the thoughts that surged through his mind.
Eddie Sherman and Mickey O'Donohue repeated Cole's words as they entered, and all three men stood in silence in the kitchen of the McGinley home.
At the table, Zeke held a book. Samuel held a knife. In front of him was a loaf of bread.
Lucy McGinley rushed in noisily before the boys had time to say anything.
The three men riding onto Mayor McGinley's farm this Saturday evening didn't doubt he'd be at home. Saturday evening was when McGinley composed the Sunday sermon.
Lucy McGinley, the Mayor's wife, scattered leftover food in the three pigs in their enclosure when the men pulled their horses to a standstill.
"May we dismount, Ma'am?" Sheriff Cole asked. "We must see your husband. And your boys."
"My boys aint here, Sheriff," she stated flatly, "And my husband's busy."
The pigs snorted and grunted their thanks for the food.
"Fine. It'll be only your husband we interrupt then," Sheriff Cole said, dismounting.
As soon as my words ended, my tears began. I had to curl up into a ball and close my eyes against a world I couldn't understand. I wished I could close my mind to thoughts and memories too. But I couldn't, they still hurt bad; so instead I concentrated on my tears and emptied my fear into my sobbing, letting the sorrow and confusion and fear do what they would to my shaking body.
Gran was upset by my sudden tears. "I don't understand," she said.
Sheriff Cole said "Reckon maybe I do, now" and he walked purposefully out.
And then the words came, tumbling like a rockfall into the room.
First come the morning and morning died when pain was born, and pain died when mist was born and it soothed and the angel showed me the train that almost run me down and killed me and the angel was Taya and she showed me her roads and showed me her heart then she showed me my own roads and my own heart and she said understanding rides two horses, Knowledge and Wonder and.. and... and she showed me that despite the train there's always a road back.
"You remember going out, Anna, that morning?" Sheriff Cole held my hand in his as he spoke, his words gentle. I felt his fingers stroking the back of my hand, the way my Daddy never did, and it felt soothing and reassuring. In the calm emptiness created by his voice and touch, memories drifted in and out.
"It wasn't like a real morning," I told him, "It was like a picture of a morning, an ice picture it was so cold. Like everything was brittle."
"Did you see anyone?"
I'd seen Zeke.
"Nobody who hurt me." I said.
I aint gonna get upset though. Not after what I seen. And anyway, I got a question of my own to ask.
My voice sounded to me like a nail scraping a horseshoe, but at least I could hear it proper, not like in my dreams when it sounded sort of like music.
"I guess he'll be here, soon, Anna," Grandma said. "He don't go often and when he do go he don't go far, just home and back."
I sighed. The movement hurt my neck but that was okay. Leastways it showed I was awake and living.
But it was me who slept. Slept, and didn't dream.
And when I swam up out of sleep to see what all the noise was about, I found it was people, real people. When Sheriff Cole asked Doc Morris if I was up to being asked some questions, the Doc winked at me. "You did good, girl. No point in telling you, but I'll say it anyways, you take your time getting better, y'hear?"
I managed a weak smile.
He winked again, then turning to Cole said "Sure thing, but make it quick, Sheriff, and don't let her get upset."
The window lit up.
Morning, huh? That window was always bright silver in the morning, catching a rising sun. The opposite window was fiery gold at evening, catching sunsets like goldpanners. I squeezed my eyes slowly open, faster closed, until eventually they grew accustomed to bright silver light.
Hello Grandma, I said. Only bits of the words came out because everything in my mouth was desert dust, but Grandma being Grandma understood.
She stood over me, afraid to touch me, but her eyes said everything.
Then her lips moved and asked: "Mebbe I can get me some sleep now, child?"
I heard words tumble out of my mouth.
Some words I knew, some were just sounds and noises wearing my voice, but I wasn't paying much attention.
Above me, the ceiling spun round and round, sometimes slow, sometimes fast. Then it blurred grey and went far away. Grandma studied me closely. Despite her tears and thoughts of burying her granddaughter, she grimaced a smile.
Come on, Anna, she'd say a million times. You can do it.
And... y'know? As my words dribbled out, as the ceiling spun, as I saw Grandma stop thinking I was dying, I knew I could.
Anna's eyes were open and they darted around the room. Words came out of her mouth, but a few seconds hearing told Ma Cody that Anna was hallucinating. She felt her brow. There was a fever there, sure, but not much of one. Maybe this was all part of the road to recovery, or maybe Anna was sinking back, Doc Morris would know. She wished he hadn't been called away.
Anna's words made no sense.
"In the mist are her people."
"Yes, Anna," Ma Cody said soothingly.
"There's the train! Understanding... and... acceptance... will come."
Three things bothered Sheriff Cole and left a feeling of dread in his stomach as he walked towards Ma Cody's.
Well, four things really, if you counted the invisible link that tied all those three things together.
One, why were those people murdered?
Two, who would attempt to murder a young girl?
Three, why was Mayor McGinley buying land?
And the missing link? What was it? McGinley; Murder; Land... Unknown.
The invisible Unknown that tied it all together. Or maybe didn't. They could be unconnected.
The same questions that had whirled in his head for days, weeks, lifetimes, remained unanswered.
Sheriff Cole loved evenings.
This evening was different though. He'd slept a little on the jailhouse cell bunk, always useful for a quick afternoon siesta. For one, the barred window faced west, so come early evening the sun shone bright red into your eyes and woke you up. For another, the bunk was so goddam hard you had to be dog-tired to sleep for much more than an hour.
This evening was no exception. The sun glared blindingly and the bunk prodded and punched every time he moved. He gave up, washed and headed back to the Cody place.
O'Donohue stared into his hands - calculations were being made.
"How big's this place, Eddie? Ten acres?" he asked.
"Twenty three dollars an acre. $276. $300 max. $400's a good deal."
"It is if I wanted to sell," Eddie remarked. "But this is home."
Cole let out an admiring whistle. "Good deal, yeah. He wants it bad, like you say, but why?"
"No idea. Gold maybe? Not in these parts."
"Not for a thousand miles," Mickey stated.
"So why?" Sheriff Cole rubbed his stinging eyes. He sighed. "I can't think. I need some shuteye."
And with that he left abruptly.
"So it's true?"
"Sure is, Sheriff," Eddie Sherman replied. "And he wants it bad."
The three men sat in Eddie Sherman's parlour, drinking Mrs Sherman's home made ginger beer. Eddie and Cole talked business; O'Donohue was memorising the recipe.
Eddie Sherman rolled his empty tin mug from one hand to another. "He offered me a little place he owns near the river. Plus a job for life if I want, starting as a hand on his spread. And... and... " he paused for effect. "He offered me $350 dollars, cash, last week. And..." another pause "...yesterday he offered me $400."
"According to one of the Sherman kids, McGinley offered to buy Eddie Sherman's holding!"
Sheriff Cole rubbed tired eyes. His words came out slowly: "That land is right next to the Prendergast place. What in hell's he wanting to build on there, Mick, a palace?"
"Dunno, Sheriff. But if Sherman sells, McGinley will own all the land to the north of Roylsden."
"So what's he doing, Mick. Dya really think he wants to own all of Roylsden?"
"Lock and stock, Sheriff, sure looks like it."
"Let's check it out then. See if the story's true. Let's go see Eddie Sherman."