"Excuse me, Minister."
Mickey leaned past McGinley and slowly stretched out his hand toward the desk
McGinley reluctantly took half a step backwards.
Mickey leaned over the corner of the desk.
McGinley's face was ashen, his eyes watery, almost lost.
Mickey's hand closed over the drawer's handle. It made a steady scraping noise as he opened it.
McGinley's jaw clenched.
Slowly Mickey's hand reached in.
McGinley's speed was remarkable, the force unstoppable. In a lightning move of pure reaction, McGinley's fist smashed into the side of Mickey's head while his other hand slammed the drawer shut on Mickey's wrist.
A sound like muffled gunfire bent the silence of the room. Mickey glanced through the window at the darkening sky just in time to see it light up briefly. Neither moon nor stars had appeared, all were invisible behind the shutters of cloud that shrouded them and tethered down this house, as if there were nothing in the world but this room and the darkness and its increasing obscurity.
The distant noises were the cracks of thunder: an electric storm common this time of year.
No rain yet fell.
It was the precursor to the storm not the storm itself.
Sheriff Cole, his fingers poised at his holster and ready for action, hesitated. While one of his gifts was the ability to size up a situation in the time it took for a .38 to tear flesh, he knew that one of Mickey's gifts was somehow to be in the right place at the right time. Usually this skill, or "art" as Mickey called it, resulted in information or clues from overheard conversations. At other times, his presence could be a catalyst for change.
Cole hoped that time was now. And that the change would offer some sort of revelation.
Dusk filtered in through the window of Minister McGinley's study, deepening the room's shadows. The outside world was losing its colour and becoming less distinct in the failing evening light and soon night would fall, and outside would become blind, a black void guarded from inside the house by a pair of parted curtains.
McGinley stood beside his desk, his one hand toying with the drawer handle. His face was blank; there was no telling what his next move would be.
Mickey O'Donohue rose and stepped towards the Minister. If he could, slowly, gently, remove the gun from the drawer...
McGinley's eyes darted from man to man before settling on the drawer in which he'd earlier placed his gun. His eyes narrowed: he may have been wondering what would happen if he reached quickly for it.
"Joshua," Cole spoke quietly, as if he were talking to a young horse he didn't want to spook, "Joshua, you won't need a gun."
McGinley stood up. "Guess you're right at that, Sheriff." His voice was meek, as if he knew he had no way to fight back and nowhere to run to.
As if the inevitable was just about to make an appearance.
The news of Anna Cody's apparent death appeared to hit McGinley hard. Cole noted that his face had paled and a thin film of sweat now shimmered at his temples.
Mickey O'Donohue leaned forward in his chair and stared at the rug beneath his feet. Eddie Sherman coughed. Neither of the men knew exactly what Sheriff Cole's ploy was, but neither wanted to say or do anything to give the game away.
McGinley sighed. His breath quavered as he did so.
Slowly and deliberately, Sheriff Cole stood up. Slowly and deliberately, his hand reached for the gun at his hip.
Minister McGinley fell back into his chair.
There was no sound from outside the study either. No sound of housework. No family chatter. Nothing.
McGinley shook his head. Then stopped. His eyes were drawn to the drawer.
Cole's voice was barely a whisper:
"I don't need to say how sorry I am, Joshua. I don't need to tell you he was seen close to Anna Cody's body. I don't need to tell you he was at the Prendergast place, or Taya Two Horses, or..."
His voice trailed off.
Silence filled the room again. No one dared break it.
There was no mistaking Minister McGinley's anger at Sheriff Cole.
"Say it, Cole, for Christ's sake! Say it! And look me in the eye when you say it!" As the Minister spoke big flecks of spit fired from his mouth and spattered the table in front of him. McGinley seemed not to notice.
Cole spoke quietly, but didn't make eye contact.
"The evidence is there, McGinley."
"There is no bloody evidence, Cole!" he shouted, his fist hammering the table three times, one for each syllable of 'evidence.'
"He was the only person there when a girl was murdered."
That was why instead of hearing "Anna, don't be so silly" from her Grandma, Anna heard "Let the girl do what she needs to do, Doc. That's if you don't mind."
Doc Morris sighed: "Is there a choice?"
Clint grinned. "With Anna and her Grandma? I don't think so, Doc."
"You can take the buggy, Doc. Anna, be quiet, you aint taking a horse, if'n you don't take the buggy, child, you don't go nowhere."
Anna said nothing.
"And get a hat on, girl."
Anna grabbed her hat as she walked out.
"Come on, then, let's get that buggy harnessed."
There weren't any arguments. A determination as solid and unyielding as rock was articulated by the look in Anna's eyes.
Old Ma Cody had seen it before, but not on Anna. She'd seen it in her own reflection after she'd been thrown out of her home by parents who couldn't accept that the man she loved would become her husband. And again when he'd died after forty years of love and support, and people said she'd never work her land alone.
And Grandma Cody's mirror had witnessed it once more when Anna became the victim in her parents failing marriage.
Clint put his arm around Anna's shoulders but her anger shook him off as her eyes blazed at everyone.
"Zeke wouldn't! Zeke couldn't!"
Doc Morris's spoke calmly: "If you know something... "
"I know nothing!" Anna shouted, her fists clenched and trembling, "except Zeke didn't do anything!"
Tears burned her eyes, her teeth ground together and she wiped her arm across her runny nose. This time, when Clint put his arm around her shoulders, she let him, and forced her head into his neck.
Suddenly, she turned away and straightened up.
"I'm coming with you, Doc. No argument. Let's go."
Doc Morris refused Old Ma Cody's offer of a drink.
"I need to get out to McGinley's place. I saw Cole earlier, he said I may be needed there... I don't know," he shrugged, in response to the old lady's raised eyebrows, "But I guess I should check the boys."
Anna reacted quickly. "You think Sheriff Cole's going there to get Zeke, don't you?"
"Maybe. He was the only one near you when you got hurt, Anna."
Anna's face reddened with anger. The Doc continued.
"He was at the Prendergast home."
"No!" Anna yelled. "Not Zeke! It's truly not Zeke!"
"Thanks, Doc," Anna said, scratching her head, "You're right, sure good to have the bandages off."
Grandma Cody laughed. "If you hadn't taken 'em off now, she'd have fretted 'em off by sunup, Doc. Good thing you came along."
Doc Morris closed his bag, replaced his jacket, then winked at Grandma Cody.
"Oi, Clint," he shouted. "Examination's done. Get yourself back in here and look after this young lady."
Clint, only two steps outside the door where he'd been banished by Doc Morris earlier, was in before the Doc had finished shouting.
He smiled at Anna, who blushed sunset red.
The train was central to all this.
Land and trains.
Then he remembered what he thought whilst leaving Anna: tread carefully, can't run a train without first laying the tracks.
"So, Cole..." McGinley began, but he didn't finish.
"Your boys," Cole whispered.
McGinley's eyes widened in barely suppressed anger and his fist hammered onto the table in front of him. He half rose from his chair.
"You want to crucify my son, is that it?" he yelled, before controlling himself and hissing "You still think he killed them women, don't you, you bastard? You still believe it!"
The three men settled themselves in McGinley's study, Cole in a chair beside McGinley's desk, Eddie Sherman and Mickey O'Donohue in plain chairs either side of the doorway. McGinley soon appeared with a tray of drinks, muttered "Help yourselves" and then closed the study door before sitting himself behind his desk. The pistol he still held in his hand was deposited in a drawer.
In the silence that followed Cole thought back to Anna mentioning the train. It had come as a bolt from the blue, as the obvious often does, and led to him hurriedly leaving the Cody place.
Sheriff Cole watched Minister McGinley closely and his hand relaxed at his holster. He watched primarily to see if McGinley’s actions supported or fought against his initial impression.
His initial rage, bitten back and held down; his sudden appearance, with his Colt drawn and ready to fire; his slow realisation of no immediate danger; all these spoke of a man waiting fearfully for something that he felt was inevitable. Unavoidable.
The tense behaviours of his wife and sons spoke of this, too, and of a silent secret they all shared. Perhaps the knowledge that the boys were killers. Perhaps not.
The door flew open and revealed Minister McGinley dominating the doorway, the pistol in his hand pointed directly at Eddie Sherman's chest.
In the split-second it took Cole's hand to move involuntarily to his holster, he'd sized up the situation and recognised that McGinley was no threat. Yet.
"Expectin' trouble, Mayor?" Cole asked quietly.
The gun's barrel lurched to point at Cole, who saw McGinley's eyes refocus on his. The barrel slowly pointed down as he recognised the Sheriff. A forced smile slid onto his face.
"Not at all, Sheriff," he grunted, "Lucy, get the boys here a drink."
"You knew it was love, Grandma. But howdya know it was true love?"
Grandma's face brightened, like she'd suddenly received some happy news - or maybe saw me for the first time in a long time.
"My, my, child, aint you growin'? And sudden, too."
Course I'm growing. Aint so sudden, though.
"A bud and then a flower, Anna. Water 'em. Won't they grow?"
I nodded. Guess so.
"All love's true love. Just gotta water it good."
She'd have explained more, she always did explain good, but there was a knock on the door and Doc Morris and Clint came in.
Grandma laid her darning in her lap. Her eyes glistened.
"Anna, you can never be sure of love."
I couldn't reply, this wasn't what I wanted to hear. I had a mind not to listen to her anymore.
"Listen, Anna," she said, knowing my thoughts from my lowered eyes. She leaned forward in her chair.
"Love aint a thing. Aint something you can touch or see. But you know it's there. Like you know there's water yonder," she pointed in the direction of the stream.
"You cant see it or hear it, but it's there. And you know it is."
"Grandma?" I repeated.
This lake of teeming thoughts in my head roiled and surged, like a tempest was coming. And on it, this one translucent petal, the colour of beauty and just as fragile, was stormed and tossed, first one way, then another.
And that petal was a thought just as delicate, just as defenceless.
"When you first met Grandpa..."
Hush. Don't say no more.
Grandma looked at me, softly smiling.
She'd seen the petal.
"Grandma...how... when didya know...."
"Not straight away, Anna. But soon."
"But when you thought you loved him... were you sure?"