“I’m sure there’s already a crew there clearing the line,” she said. “I doubt there’s anything to see.”
“I want to go anyway. If you don’t want to go, you can stay here and I’ll come back for you.”
Charlene dumped what looked like half a jar of preserves onto her pancake. “No way. I’m sticking close and making sure you take me to Texas.”
“Fine, but today we’re going west.”
“Your people won’t be there.”
I pushed my plate away, suddenly not as hungry as I had thought. Charlene helped herself my chorizo. “I just need to see for myself,” I told her. “Maybe they’re hiding nearby. Maybe I can track them and make them stop doing the crazy things they’re doing.”
Charlene shrugged and returned her attention to her pancake. “I’ve waited this long for an opportunity to go home. If la Bella Diana wants to go chasing after her no-account husband, I’m game.”
I tried to argue that Will wasn’t a “no-account” as she called him. He had a tough childhood and was poorly educated. He was also an idealist and very stubborn. “He sometimes doesn’t understand that he can’t force the world to be how he wants it to be. He’s very loyal and protective.”
“Right. That’s why he left you.”
“No, I left him. The real story is nothing like the song.”
She looked like she didn’t believe me, but didn’t argue and instead traced a finger through the sticky mess on her plate. “Let’s order some pie.”
“You’re kidding, right? Save your money. This isn’t the twentieth century.”
Charlene waved to the waitress. “That’s why I’m filling up on food. Who knows when I’ll eat this good again?”
She ordered a slice of apple pie.
I couldn’t imagine how Charlene was going to sit her horse after such a big meal but she mounted her little roan and trotted her skillfully up and down the street while I checked Flecha’s packs one last time. “It’s great to have a horse again,” she said. “I had a bicycle until this past summer, when the new town government took me off the tire ration list. A bike isn't as much fun as a horse, anyway.”
We headed west out of town, following the old interstate which ran parallel to the tracks. There was the usual assortment of wagons, refugees and ordinary travelers on the road, although a diesel truck roared past once, reminding me of the day Valle Redondo was raided. Would trucks ever mean anything else to me? It was probably just a wealthy mafia group sending goods the only fast way they knew how with the rail line still not re-opened.
We reached the site of the derailment around noon. Most of the cars had already been taken back up the line, but the engines and one of the more damaged cars remained in the scrub while a knot of workers repaired the rail.
Charlene and I reined in and looked around. In every direction was empty, flat country with a few distant mountains.
“I told you there wouldn’t be anything to see.”
“Hush.” I trotted Flecha back and forth, then in a widening circle skirting the fringes of the area where the men were working. A few of them looked at me, but didn’t challenge my odd behavior. Funny how no matter how many females choose to fight in the civil war, most civilian men remain unconcerned that a woman might be a threat.
At least in this case, they were right.
I broadened my circle, scanning the ground all the while. Charlene sat her horse and watched as if I were mad. Finally I saw what I was looking for. I examined the hoof prints, then began following them. Charlene kicked her mare and caught up to me. “What did you find? Is it them?”
“I think so.”
We followed the trail for maybe a quarter of a mile, where it dipped into a shallow arroyo, then inexplicably split. The tracks of one animal headed off alone, and even more unusual was the scattering of little white pebbles at the split.
“What does it mean?”
I had my suspicions, but I merely indicated the single set of tracks and said, “Let’s go see.”
The trail followed the arroyo for a bit, then climbed back out. And here beside a clump of Russian thistle was a little cairn, so deliberately haphazard as to be almost a work of art. I jumped off my horse and examined the area more closely, finding signs of soft earth.
“Hand me your trowel,” I told Charlene.
I began digging and it didn’t take long before I struck a leather pack. Charlene helped me remove the dirt and rocks and pull it out of the hole. Inside were riches—ammunition, batteries, some silver coins, and two small boxes of chocolate. Had it been any other time but winter, the chocolate would have been melted and overrun with ants, but sealed in waxed paper and buried in the leather pouch, it was in good shape.
I handed one of the boxes to Charlene. “I think this one’s yours.”
I took a moment to enjoy the look of confusion on her face before saying, “Actually, they’re probably both the same, but he knew I’d have someone with me, so he packed one for you, too.”
“No, Coyote. The derailment expert.” I stood up, rubbing my dirty hands on my pants. “He hears voices and they sometimes tell him things no one else has any rational way of knowing. He knew I’d come out here looking for them.”
“So they’re nearby?” Charlene looked around.
“I doubt it. He wouldn’t have hidden a gift for us if he was going to tell Will. He knows Will would’ve insisted on staying and intercepting us.” I began picking up the ammo and batteries and putting them back in the bag. “I think this is Coyote’s way of saying he wishes us well and there’s no reason to go chasing after them.”
Charlene opened her box of chocolates. “You’re sure these aren’t poisoned or anything?”
“If they wanted us dead, they’d have done it. If it will make you feel better, I’ll have one of mine and we’ll see if it kills me or not.”
“I’ll eat one, too. That way we can die together.”
We laughed and each had a candy. Then we loaded our new acquisitions onto Flecha, and headed back toward the interstate.
We headed east and I was relieved and happy that I hadn’t had to confront Will. If Coyote had thought I could do any good, he would’ve told him I was on my way. I trotted my horse under the desert sky, feeling lighter and happier than I had in awhile.
As Charlene and I neared town we decided we didn’t want to revisit the place we had just left that morning, so we found an old store near the interstate and made it our camp for the night.
I had thought Charlene might be too accustomed to town life to adapt to the makeshift conditions of such a place, but she seemed to take everything in stride, like it was all a big adventure. She didn’t even complain about the food, pronouncing it, “Better than I had thought it would be.”
Over dinner she asked me some questions about Will, Robert, and Unitas, so I did my best to clear all that up for her. By the time she quit asking questions, I was too tired to ask any but the most basic questions about her.
It’s going to take a long time to get to Texas, so I’m in no hurry. It’s always a good idea to save stories for later in a journey, so you won’t tire of your companion's company too soon.
◄ Previous Entry
Next Entry ►