A desert sun sets behind the numerous tall buildings that jut upwards like dead men's fingers out of the red dust. Perhaps befitting dead men, it's not them that point accusingly at us. They point at the good, wholesome blue sky. No sirree, it's the sharp jet-black tarmac roads snaking accusingly and arterially along the ground pointing towards the bloating heart of Roylsden. Towards us.
The canyon has gone. The river's being concreted over.
New buildings erected.
Six thousand offices. For greed.
One school. For Knowledge and Wonder.
That is Roylsden. Remote. Insecure. Pointed at. Accused.
No more storytelling.
Except for this:
All that I've written down here is a lie.
Yeah, even the bit saying "Some of what I told you was a lie."
It's all a lie.
All of it. A fabrication.
See, I've always loved stories.
Aint nobody don't love stories.
So: believe it or not. It's up to you.
But tonight, like every night, I will rest with one eye on the back porch of my mind. And when Taya Two Horses comes I'll close both eyes. And when I leave, I won't look back.
Now look here, don't go 'bout thinking I been killing folk all my life. That'd make you dumber than a hen sharpening the farmers knives. No, what happened, happened. I can't pretend to understand why them things happened: hell, I can't understand why I did some things.
I can't even remember half of what I did.
I'm old now, I keep telling you, I really can't remember. Can't think in straight lines no more, I gotta think something ten times before I know what I'm thinking about.
But I do understand that maybe that's a sign to be moving on.
Now I've made up my mind that it's time to leave, I just have to write down this one last thing.
Some of what I told you was a lie.
I've lived for years with the secret, buried it out the back, under the back porch of my mind where nobody, no lawman, no man of God, not even a hungry whelp could come sniffing around to dig it up.
Seems wherever there was a killing, there I was, doesn't it? Hmm, maybe so, maybe so. No point in putting that down in writing. Not now. It won't change nothing.
Roylsden's changed. Got bigger. Faster. Busier. All since the railroad took up residence. Y'know, y'all can get from here to New York in a couple of days? Though I don't want to. No mountains. No canyon. No streams.
They replaced all them with hurry and scurry, getting and fretting.
Anyway, I'm too old.
I'm ready to sleep, me; ready, and I'm willing.
And last night I dreamed Taya Two Horses told me she was here to guide me whenever I was ready. Held my hands and told me so.
She also said Anna Cody, this aint no dream.
That was years ago, so I hope I've remembered everything right. But I've written it down now, and what's written can't be changed, can it?
People call me Old Ma Cody now - leastways the oldest ones do. The younger kids, they call me Old Ma Dempsey, and shake their heads at how I keep this farmstead going since my old Clint passed on four years since. But he was a fine man, and a good judge of men, too. Them men I got working my land, they're tough bunch but they're all to a man a good sort.
Of course, Joshua McGinley lost his land acquisitions. The County Judiciary decided against him keeping what he'd got illegally, so his recent land purchases were confiscated and sold off at auction when he was in prison. The auction itself was pretty much low key and, on the say-so of the County Judiciary, open only to Roylsden residents. Sheriff Cole bought Taya Two-Horses place and Clint Dempsey bought Mrs Prendergast's. Before we was wedded, Clint sold it to the railroad and we all lived happily, and richer, ever after.
And that might have been the end of the story.
It was such an extreme case, they said. Well, to saddle up quick, the whole thing was reviewed and someone somewhere decided that prison wasn't the answer, either for her or for medical research. She was committed to the care of one of them shiny newbuckled hospitals up New York state. Minister McGinley's case was reviewed, too, and the upshot was he got his sentence cut and by the time the legal business with Lucy McGinley was done, he was free again. He and the boy moved to New York and, as far as I know, never returned to Roylsden.
I'd never seen the like when their sentences were announced. Such an outcry! Newspapers as far away as Phoenix and Chicago ran whole issues on the sentences. Doc Morris and fancy doctors from back East spoke in defence of Lucy McGinley. She was ill, they said, her mind wasn't nearly right. They gave it a fancy name, but essentially she'd admit to anything because she felt she deserved punishment. Victim Syndrome, one psychiatrist called it. In addition, her crippled mind hated beautiful young women: they recalled her own emotions at their age, and she hit out at the despised memories.
Now, looking back over my long life I guess I've always agreed with him. Always? Mostly, leastways. That's why when I look back I won't judge. I'll leave that to others.
After a long trial - the legal proceedings finally ended up in the Kane County Courthouse - it was found that Joshua McGinley had done nothing illegal, but he had overstepped his Mayoral powers in acquiring land. He had also, knowingly, harboured a killer, for which he was sentenced to five years in the new built Kane County Jail.
Lucy McGinley, guilty of at least three murders, was sentenced to hang.
I hope I've remembered that pretty much right. Sorry, Mr Bowen, I mean pretty much correctly. Yeah, I still think of him sometimes, even after so many years passed. He was one of them people - those people - who come into your life and make it better. He was my teacher and I guess he taught me a whole mountain of stuff. But mostly he taught me to love stories because they are about people, to love history because it's about people, and to love people. He'd say if you do that, you'd soon learn it's never our place to judge.
I felt confused.
I felt... trapped inside a picture. Behind me, in the buggy, two broken people, sorrow clouding them, exuded like mist chilling my back. The Minister and his wife, lives shattered, shot apart from within; the lawman, grim and grey-faced, who understood duty and never shirked confrontation, but who now faced one of his most difficult challenges, handing over an old friend to faceless judgement.
But in front of me bright sunshine decorated the landscape ahead. Clint's arm around my shoulders. Above, endless blue sky. Around us, warm breezes and birdsong.
The world is a beautiful artist.
The buggy journey back into Roylsden was odd. Clint had the reins and I sat beside him, both of us trying to cajole a tired and grumpy horse into getting us back to town. Minister McGinley and his wife were quiet in the back, very quiet: not that they had many alternatives, Sheriff Cole sat with them. Husband and wife both looked emptied out, like discarded tack bags, and sat silent and broken. Mickey and Doc Morris stayed behind with the boys at the farm. I wasn't sure that was the best way: fact is, it was the only way.
Sheriff Cole's voice exuded calm as he turned me around to face him. His face wouldn't stay in focus but, hell, I didn't care. It wasn't Zeke with the gun, it was Cole - and he was grinning.
If I wasn't crying so much I'd have asked what happened.
"Everything's fine." Cole reported.
He's reading minds now.
Through my tears, a blurred Mickey's helping Clint to a chair and pouring him whisky.
I'm about to ask "Where's mine?" when I realise my lips hurt. Shit, everything hurts.
So I simply ask "Is it over?" and, still grinning, Cole nods.
Clint doesn't look scared.
I'm trying not to think about Zeke behind me. I'm trying not to think he's going to kill us. I'm trying not to think.
Clint eyes are warm and gentle, not frightened, not like me.
He's saying something. The noise in my head fades as Clint's words embrace me.
And then a bird flies out from his heart and lands on my shoulder, but when I look again it's not a bird, it's his hand.
And I hold it to my face because I can't hold back the tears.
He's just said "I love you Anna."
I close my eyes, believing Zeke's got the gun again.
If this is Death, let it come quick, I'm too tired to fight anymore.
It hurts as I turn my back to the direction of the click. I don't want to see the gun. I don't care anymore. I'm groaning when I move. My head roars, there's a noise like the inside of a waterfall in my ears.
I only ask for one more moment: just to hold Clint's hand one more time.
He's rubbing his throat, speaking to me.
Blood around his mouth. I can't hear what he says.
My head hit the floor both times McGinley chucked me off. The third time, my wrist hurt bad, but I aint giving up now. Diving back onto him I saw Clint land punches into his face. I wrapped my arm around McGinley's throat and, still holding tight around his neck, threw myself sideways. When I hit the floor, McGinley's face appeared close beside me, and my elbow hurt like hell when I smashed it onto his head.
And finally he stopped struggling and I groaned in sheer relief.
Then I heard the clicking of a gun's hammer being drawn back.
Immediately, Cole and O'Donohue dashed to Zeke. If he fired now, one of them wouldn't be breathing anymore.
That was a chance they had to take. Me, I had other battles.
Nobody was going to hurt Clint if I could stop it. I know McGinley's a Minister of God and all that, but you got to protect your own haven't you? Else, what's the point of friendship? Trust? Loyalty? Else, what's the point of love?
I was on top of the Minister before I could think. Knee hammered hard into his kidneys as I landed, giving my fists free reign.
Perhaps powered by desperation, perhaps by love, McGinley launched himself at Clint. The guttural roar as he moved through the air was bestial and the more shocking because it sounded closer to a fiend in murderous frenzy than a coyote suffering its own death.
Clint, his back to the Minister, saw nothing and didn't stand a chance. McGinley fell on him, knocking them both away from Zeke, and his hands reached around Clint's throat. And tightened.
Zeke was quick to take the opportunity. He dragged himself across the floor, reached out and took the gun back into his shaking hands.
I saw the Minister rise onto his haunches. I reckon nobody else noticed him because they was all looking at Clint and Zeke fighting.
McGinley frightened me. His face - all bashed in, still dripping blood - seemed blank, as if there was nobody inside. His eyes were white edged and his lips were drawn back from his teeth so he looked like a rabid coyote confronted by a puma. I half expected him to give out a howl, or creep backwards snarling, the way a coyote does when it's met with its own death.
But he did none of those things.