"You done right, killing the girl, Ma'am."
Glares twisted towards Mickey O'Donohue.
"Her life was too tough, but what's her future hold? She can't run her land alone when Ma Cody dies. What'll she do, sell herself just to eat? A whore's life'll kill her, but slower, more painfully. Yeah, you did right."
Lucy winced. This resonated with her own painful memories.
And while this was happening, Sheriff Cole saw that Mickey had thrown a six, too. Unnoticed by anyone but Cole, Clint's eyes opened and closed, and in an unmistakeable sign, he forced his mouth into a brief smile.
A woman yelling!.
So I can't have slept long.
So I did hear gunfire earlier!
Then there's Grandma's voice in my head: Careful...
But Clint - ?
and Grandma again: if you gotta do it, do it but be careful, Anna Cody, y'hear me?
I hear you Grandma, I whisper, scraping straw and dirt off my face and clothes.
Standing, trembling. Smeared in mud. Soaked. Straw in my hair. Ha, if only Grandma could see me now.
Taya Two- Horses could.
I know because I hear her: There's always a road back she whispers.
"I saw her last night," Lucy continued, seemingly forgetting the interruption. "I shouted at her for walking around our bedroom, Joshua, but you continued snoring like you didn't care."
"It was a dream, Lucy," McGinley tried to speak soothingly but his voice quavered.
Lucy's reaction was extreme and forceful.
"I wasn't dreaming!" she screamed, and fired a shot past her husband which splintered wood in the wall behind him.
"She was there," she screamed again. Then, "Stay there, Sheriff!" spoken quietly as she saw him tense and she buried a bullet into the floorboards nearby.
"Next one's yours" she said.
Mickey O'Donohue slowly stretched his arms out in front of him. And yawned.
He didn't know what game Sheriff Cole was playing, but Lucy McGinley's eyes had long given up playing games and Cole needed a distraction.
The pistol strayed to align with his face.
"Only stretchin', Ma'am," Mickey said. "I'm gettin' mighty uncomfortable here."
Lucy couldn't believe the stupidity of the man. Here he was, about to be shot, about to be killed, and he was so concerned about feeling uncomfortable he was begging for a bullet!
Cole had tensed, but the pistol jerked back to face him.
"I dream of her. She haunts my room every night. Leastways, I think I was dreaming. She's there, eyes wild, bright with fear. I see her... but it's better now she's really dead. I won't see her anymore."
A roll of the dice. Cole slapped his palm down onto the floor. The crack startled everyone.
"Silly game you're playing, Sheriff. I could've shot you for less."
At last, a six! Sheriff Cole restrained a smile. The barrel of Lucy's pistol still pointed threateningly at his chest but the barrel of the Winchester above Clint's head trembled and swayed.
"You know, sometimes I prayed for her that she may live. Even though I know she saw me I prayed she would pull through. I didn't want her to die, didn't want her to. But she had to, you see? Just that one last death and everything would be ok again. After everything, one last death wasn't too much, was it?"
Sheriff Cole watched her intently. He didn't know what, but something was happening inside that head.
"Ma - " Zeke began.
"Sshh child. Ma is in charge here, you're safe now. You don't need to worry about anything any more."
"She saw me at the last, you know. Turned as I leapt, poor stricken foal with eyes bulging with fear. Her legs tried to carry her away, but they buckled under my weight like I was Kashmir. My claws were the rock that stunned her, my bite was the rifle butt that hammered her skull.
A predator's kill is almost always quick.
But I had such little experience! Kashmir would have told me to make sure, sever her artery, let it drain cold. But... he'd gone."
She looked hesitantly around the room as if suddenly aware she was not alone.
"I felt Kashmir beside me every step of the way," Lucy McGinley continued, "When I stalked, he stalked. When I crouched, he crouched."
Colour fades into the room, though no one yet moves. We have followed that thread, blind but trusting, and we have returned. The lamplight glows yellow against the rain- jewelled blackness of the window, but it is a stuttering yellow as the wick struggles to stay alive, and its stuttering makes the shadows leap and gives the people motion, even though none dare move.
Only Lucy McGinley speaks, her voice trembling, sounding strangely disconnected from her body.
Lucy McGinley couldn't hear what was said, but she knew it all the same. The low tones, the serious faces. Zeke cried twice; once Samuel put his arm around him comforting him, and once Anna Cody put her arm around him to seduce him. They talked and talked and Lucy McGinley knew from the look on the bitch's face that her silly children had told her who the murderer was.
When Anna left for home, Lucy stalked her.
Kashmir would have been proud.
The silence of her footsteps in the crispest of dawns, oh... he would have been so proud.
She'd trailed her boys throughout that night, stalked them under the brightest of moons. Smiling warmly, she remembered Kashmir, the circus tiger, all those long years ago; he would have stalked like Lucy McGinley stalked, and she felt proud of herself. She was sure her eyes burned bright yellow as she stalked, just like Kashmir's did when he was hungry. And when Kashmir had those eyes, you stayed away until he had fed and those burning eyes had softened.
Then the whore appeared and Samuel spotted her. The foolish boy called her name and, magically, the girl stood beside them.
The night Ezekial confided to his mother that he'd spoken to Anna, she slapped him so hard her palm stung until long after he'd leapt from the floor and run to his room.
She'd apologised once he'd told her he hadn't told Anna anything. She told him he was brave to withstand her power. She was proud of his bravery.
And they prayed together for Zeke's continuing courage.
And then came that night the bitch met her sons. They said it was coincidence, just an accident they'd met, but she knew better. She knew the bitch had made it happen.
Next, the bitch. The girl with a whore's eyes. Lucy McGinley had seen her talking to Zeke and Samuel and she'd warned them about the little hussy, warned them not to speak to her.
But that girl had otherworldly, ungodly powers. She must have.
True, at first they'd ignored her. She'd followed her sons to make sure and, yeah, they cut her off completely. Don't talk to us, they'd said, don't you talk to us ever again, and she'd smiled her motherly smile because there was honest hatred in their voices and she'd seen tears fall from the whore's eyes.
She hadn't left.
Watching Bowen writhing and moaning, she remembered those men who'd used her.
Taking two deep breaths she raised the axe high into the air. Then, pursing her lips, she bought it down hard and fast onto Bowen's neck. Rolling clear of his body, his head wobbled then teetered to a standstill.
With her foot, she rolled the headless torso onto its back. And before she left, she buried the blade once more, this final time deep into his groin. She smiled in grim satisfaction as its handle reached up into the air like a fleshless, lifeless erection.
A silence fell, which seemed to last forever. Incoherent thoughts flashed through Bowen's head: he smelled his own blood and wondered if he was dying. The pain seemed far away, but then so did everything, so perhaps he was dying.
Did he have any chance of surviving? If there was a chance, he'd need to scream, but try as he might he couldn't breathe in, his lungs felt full of liquid and a tight band of pain constricted his chest.
The pain intensified and he wondered why he hadn't died already. Then, groaning loudly, he wondered if she had left.
"Zeke knows," Mr Bowen confided. "For his sake, admit you killed- "
The shoulder of the axe and the back of its blade hit Mr Bowen on the side of the head, knocking him to the floor.
He saw close up Mrs McGinley's shoes peering from under the muddy hem of her long dress, then the pain hit.
The axe blade came down on his shoulder and an agony of red flashed over him. A dull thud between his shoulders blades exploded into sharp agony as Lucy McGinley struggled with the handle to release the spattered blade from his back.
The sun felt surprisingly hot though the window, even though it was much colder outside. That was Lucy McGinley's first impression. Her second was of that strange ambience, almost a universal wistfulness, of being in a silent classroom empty of children.
She realised how much she missed teaching, missed being in the classroom with her pupils. It had been such a long time since- since- oh, it had been such a very long time since she'd lost control of her world.
"Nobody knows who did it," Mrs McGinley almost whispered as she looked at all the memories in the room.
Lucy McGinley raised her eyebrows.
"What night was that, Mr Bowen?"
His eyes got busy again. He put down the axe and began tidying away the last of the wood.
"What night, Mr Bowen?"
He'd been bent over the woodpile. He straightened up and wiped sweat from his face.
"Oh, you know, the night you murdered Mrs Prendergast."
"Why, that's plain silly talk," Lucy McGinley pretended shock. "And if that's joking, that aint funny."
"I know," agreed Mr Bowen and he made his way back into the schoolhouse.
Lucy McGinley followed slowly. She carried the axe in her right hand.
Bowen was different. He'd been asking questions. Putting ideas into Joshua's head. Poor old Joshua, didn't know what to believe. Were our boys truly innocent - or not?
"I bin talkin' to Samuel and Zeke," Bowen said.
He was chopping wood for the school's wood store.
"I don't believe the people 'round here, Mrs McGinley," he said. "Zeke aint a killer, no more'n Samuel is."
The way he said it. The way his eyes appraised her, up and down. The way he didn't say what he was thinking.
"I saw you rushing home that night. You didn't see me, I guess?"
Within weeks Joshua owned Prendergast's property. It was small consolation for having to go through everything, but Sheriff Cole said no men would convict a kid of good character for a crime so violent, not when he himself called for help - even if he was the only person near the property that evening. Still, they had to go through the process.
Yes, for having to tolerate that stress they deserved that property,.
That was so easy. Taya Two Horses would be easier. Strangle her. Leave a couple of things of the boys. Same process, same result, the boys go free.
Lucy McGinley stared into the wide open eyes of her son. No words would come.
Until Zeke spoke.
"Ma, you go. Leave now."
She turned to leave. Stopped. "I can't- "
"Just go, Ma, I can... tidy up here."
The way he said "tidy up" frightened her.
"No, Ezekial, you come with me, quickly - "
"Mr Bowen saw me come in here, Ma. Anyone see you?"
"I don't think - "
"Then get out now! Go home and don't say nothing. Whatever happens. You promise me?"
Someone had taken control. She did as she was told. What else could she do?