"You aint kiddin' are you?" Mickey, brow furrowed, shook his head.
"Zeke McGinley was at old Mrs Prendergast's place when I got there. But it was someone else running out the back door, never found out who. I thought at the time it was Samuel, the kids were always together, seemed right, y'know?"
"Zeke had been at Taya Two Horses place before she died. How'd I know? Found his pocket watch on the floor of the house. A new Waltham. Inscribed "For Ezekial, for Christmas. With Love."
Mickey raised a finger as if to interrupt, but Cole continued.
Sheriff Cole downed his Redeye and rolled the glass along the palm of his hand.
"Aint Zeke I'm after."
He leaned forward, elbows on the table.
"But if the boy's gonna hang, if fatherly love don't reveal something, then motherly love surely will."
"Don't get you, Sheriff," he said.
"Listen, Mick. But keep this shut!" he pointed at his mouth. "McGinley is a murderer. Taya Two Horses. Prendergast woman. Bowen. I know it, Mick, and every day that goes by I know it better. Trouble is, I don't know why. I got no motive."
Mickey's mouth fell open.
In the Waterhole, Sheriff Cole and Mickey O'Donohue sat at Cole's favourite position, an alcove near the swing doors of the saloon, where the lawman could size up customers entering the bar - and identify the troublesome before they even knew they were about to make trouble.
A confusion of barroom sounds weaved together to make a blanket of noise beneath which they could talk, if not openly, then quietly.
"So it weren't Zeke?" O'Donohue merely repeated Cole's earlier statement.
"Can't see it, Mick. Can't see that at all."
"So why'd you tell Mayor McGinley that Zeke was in your sights?"
It was evening before the two men rode back towards town, heading for the Waterhole Saloon. They rode slowly, the Sheriff musing over Mayor McGinley's reactions, Mickey O'Donohue relieved to be heading home and respectful of Sheriff Cole's studious look. The sun hung lazily on the horizon as it did this time of year, as if it was too scared to go down, or perhaps it could see everything happening and didn't want to miss a thing.
Their long sharp shadows rode beside them, only the flapping of crows' wings or the call of a flycatcher interrupting the hesitant stillness.
Time was unaware of Clint's fear. Slow seconds danced with the dust in the obstructed blades of sunlight before escaping from the house.
All this time, Clint urged life and blood back into his legs as, gradually, a feeling of pins and needles crept through them. It felt like it was his unstoppable will against his immoveable legs, but the answer was too slow coming.
Old Ma Cody's words were clear and strong, startling Clint and making him jump as they shattered the stillness shrouding the room. He had no idea she was awake.
"Come in Zeke McGinley. Come in!"
Clint pushed himself up on one hand. His other hand reached out instinctively over Anna's stomach, even though he felt it was a futile attempt at protecting her. Try as he might he couldn't move his legs, though a faint feeling was beginning to thrum through them.
The shadow didn't move.
It was the outline of a man, probably. Slim. Carrying something at his side, like a shovel or a rifle.
Clint wanted to shout out, but a strange dread filled him, as if somehow he would be responsible for Anna's death if he dared to invited this stranger in.
Clint tried moving his legs, but they wouldn't respond. Perhaps he'd slept for hours, it felt that way. Yet it was still light.
Until the room darkened.
And, just as quickly, became lighter.
The sudden change of light startled him, and his eyes shot to the door, then the window, then back to the door.
He rolled himself off his knees hoping life would eventually return to his legs. Lying on his side, he propped himself up on one elbow.
Just in time to see the room darken again as a shadow fell into the house through the open door.
Clint wasn't sure if he'd slept. The room was darker, though the window seemed bright enough, and the light that came in through the open door was still strong. But his hand relentlessly held Anna's arm and he had to fight to loosen his fingers and release his grip and his legs were numb from hours of kneeling without moving. He looked around.
Ma Cody was asleep. Anna still breathed shallowly. The only real movement came from the motes of dust that whirled unconscious and insensate in the door's intruding sunlight. Otherwise, all was lifeless in a deathly unliving scene.
Inside the Cody homestead, there'd been no movement for hours. Old Ma Cody had withdrawn to the chair by the fireside and wrapped a blanket around herself. The pain of her old bones gave her no rest so she'd moved to the chair, still close enough to reach and touch Anna. Close enough, too, to touch Clint, and as she'd settled her blanket around her, she'd reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder.
"I'm glad you came," she'd said, and Clint had nodded.
They were the last words spoken before silence and worry suffocated their hearts like smoke.
"Ma Cody's granddaughter was attacked, damn near killed this morning. She could still die, it was touch and go when I left, according to Doc Morris. Hell, Joshua, she might be dead now for all we know."
McGinley leaned forward and for Mickey at least the man's face assumed the look of Minister more than Mayor McGinley.
"Eddie Sherman found her. And... he says he saw Zeke running away from her."
Mayor McGinley looked down at his hands.
"You saying- ?"
"I'm saying nothing, Mayor. But I'll let you talk to Zeke before I do. That's only fair."
Sheriff Cole paused at the door.
The Mayor rose. "Sit down. Please." It was more command than offer.
The Sheriff sighed audibly and returned to his seat. Mickey O'Donohue sat down again. Eventually, the Mayor sat too.
"Cole, we've known each other long enough, how many years is it? I like to think we're friends, if not good friends. What's eating at you?"
"Joshua..." the Sheriff began. Mickey O'Donohue almost jumped. It was the first time he'd heard anyone call McGinley by his first name. Up until now if he wasn't Mayor McGinley he'd be Minister McGinley. But never Joshua.
Mickey O'Donohue, half risen from his chair, uncertain whether to stand or sit down again, was beginning to wonder if he'd missed something, maybe everything. Here he was, in this grand room, the Mayor's study no less, hearing a conversation between the Sheriff and the Mayor in which the Mayor looked as confused as Mickey felt and only Sheriff Cole had any notion of what was going on.
And now Sheriff Cole was about to leave and a nonplussed Mayor was, for a moment at least, lost for words.
Until "Stay awhile, Sheriff Cole. Tell me. What's in your head?"
Sheriff Cole rose abruptly, reached his hand across the desk and proffered a handshake.
"Thanks, Mayor, that's been very revealing."
Mayor McGinley looked as confused as Mickey O'Donohue as he took the Sheriff's hand.
"Look, Cole, what's all this about? What's Sherman done?"
Still clasping hands, Sheriff Cole said "One last question, Mayor. Does he have a grudge against you?"
The shock on McGinley's face was genuine.
"No! At least I hope not." He shook his head. "No, I'm certain of it."
Cole released the Mayor's hand.
"Good," he said, "Very good. Thank you Mr McGinley, you've been very helpful."
"Eddie Sherman's a decent man."
As he considered his words, Mayor McGinley eyes rode the elaborate carvings on the impressively filled bookcase that took up one whole wall at his right.
"I'd say he's a good family man, regular chapel goer with his good lady wife, usually sent his kids to Sunday school. Bit wild in his younger days, so I understand, but what colt isn't? He's reliable. Solid. That do you, Sheriff?"
"That's great Mayor. He ever work for you?"
"No. Though I'd trust him enough to take him on if he needed work, if that's what you mean."
The Mayor turned immediately to Mickey.
"You're O'Donohue, am I right? Bartender? Occasional help in a couple places? Good help to Sheriff Cole here?" Mayor McGinley smiled warmly as he looked back at the Sheriff. "Well, what can I do for you Cole?"
"Eddie Sherman, Mayor. You know much about him?"
As much about him as he knows about me, apparently, Mickey O'Donohue thought.
"Whadya think of him? I'd value your opinion, Mayor, you're a good judge of men."
McGinley's smile broadened.
"Thanks, Cole, I appreciate that," and he leaned back in his chair to consider his reply.
"Thank you, Lucy."
Mayor McGinley dismissed his wife with a smile and a wave. Sitting behind a desk almost as big as a small wagon but far more ornate, he looked every inch a Mayor. In front of him, a glass inkstand, lots of paperwork and a gleaming new Colt. He was, presumably, busy with Mayoral duties.
"Sit down, gentlemen," Mayor McGinley rose and indicated a couple of leather armchairs as his wife left the room.
"Sorry to interrupt, Mr McGinley," Sheriff Cole said with a smile. O'Donohue raised an eyebrow: he was surprised the Sheriff hadn't called him "Mayor."
The sight of two riders slowly approaching surprised Mrs McGinley. She was standing at one of the windows of her parlour, watching nothing. She spent a lot of the daylight staring, and waiting for her sons to return.
Sometimes they did.
She decided she'd better tidy herself up. Visitors were few and generally expected, so now she moved quickly to the mirror and combed her hair.
Watching her own reflection, she remembered when she used to teach at the school. Before all this started. Aah, in those days she was always clean and tidy. A mayors wife. A respectable lady.
Sheriff Cole needed some time to think, so didn't rush out to the McGinley place. He waited patiently for Mickey O'Donohue to saddle up and they both walked their horses to the edge of town.
"What you thinkin', Sheriff?" Mickey asked, as they strolled out of town.
"What most people round here think of Eddie Sherman."
"You think he done it?"
Sheriff Cole didn't answer straight away. Then: "Mick, what do most people think of him?"
"He's okay I guess."
"Sensible, mostly? Reliable?"
"I guess. Why?"
"Good." The Sheriff pulled himself up onto his horse. "Come on, Mick. Let's ride."
Clint stared at her. His hand reached towards her, though it didn't feel like his hand. He felt as if he'd fallen into something deep inside himself and the hand he watched was something strange and alien. The body he occupied wasn't him- he didn't exist. And somewhere, deep inside, he felt as if he'd been cut adrift, like a small boat, untethered, which now drifted aimlessly on a swirling, hungry lake in a black and merciless night.
Yet somehow, amongst all his turmoil and fear, he leaned forward, saw her long, exquisite eyelashes and softly kissed both her eyes.
At first Clint saw no movement from Anna. He stared at her face, hoping for the slightest sign: her eyes were closed, her lips slightly open, but there was nothing. When her arm moved slightly Clint gasped, hope kindling inside him like faraway fires, but almost immediately everything was extinguished as he saw Ma Cody move it.
He stared and stared, desperate for the tiniest movement. When it came, he refused to believe it: he didn't want it to be his desperation that made him see it. But no, there! Again! The smallest motion. The faintest breath.
She was alive!