E X C E R P T
Karla hesitated in the doorway of the adobe, then pushed open the screen door and came out into the sunlight as she heard again the faint, faraway sound of the wagon; and now she looked off toward the stand of willows that formed a windbreak along the north side of the yard, her eyes half closed in the sun glare and not moving from the motionless line of trees.
She waited for the wagon to appear—a girl not yet twenty, with clear dark eyes, a clean-lined delicately featured face that was brown from the sun, and black hair that suggested Spanish-Indian blood, though her hair was cut short, almost boyishly short, and brushed back from her temples; a girl wearing a man’s blue chambray shirt tucked into a gray skirt that fell almost to her rope-soled sandals.
Now she could hear the horses splashing over the creek that passed through the willows. The team and wagon appeared but the girl waited until the two riders who trailed the wagon came into view before she turned to the adobe.
“They’re coming now.”
Her father, John Demery, appeared in the doorway thumbing a suspender strap over his shoulder, up over long-sleeved woolen underwear. And now his face creased to an expression of almost pain as he looked off into the yellow-white sun glare. The willow trees added color to the scene and beyond them, towering, sloping out of the distance, the foothills of the Pinaleño Mountains were striped with the black shadow lines of barrancas and pine stands; but here on the flat land, looking straight out from the adobe east, then sweeping south, there was an unvarying sameness of mesquite and sun glare and the thin faint line of distant mountains was part of another world.
Demery’s long adobe, his corral and outbuildings, were here of necessity. On the Hatch & Hodges Stage Line map his place was indicated at Station #3 on the Central Mail run. Locally, it was the Pinaleño station’thirteen miles southeast of Fuegos, the nearest town; and six miles almost due south of the convict camp at Five Shadows.
The wagon now approaching the station was from the convict camp. Karla was certain of this from the moment she’d heard the first faint creaking sound from the willows. She kept her eyes on the wagon, watching the driver gradually turning the team to come in broadside to the adobe.
Now one of the riders, a shotgun across his pommel, spurred to swing in on the near side. As he did, Karla said, “Mr. Renda himself.”
Demery half turned from the door. “I’ll get the voucher. The sooner they’re out of here the better.” But he hesitated, looking out toward the wagon again. “Is your friend along?”
“I don’t know,” Karla answered, not looking around, her gaze still going out across the yard. “He could be one of those two in back. But I can’t see their faces yet.”
“Or their numbers,” Demery said. He turned back into the dimness of the adobe.
Frank Renda, with the shotgun, was coming directly toward her; but the second rider crossed the yard diagonally and remained on the far side of the wagon. He carried a Winchester straight up, the stock resting on his thigh and his hand gripping it through the lever.
The two men whom Karla could not yet see, who sat in the back of the empty wagon with their legs hanging over the end gate, and the driver, looked toward the adobe as they drew nearer. They wore curl-brimmed, preshaped straw hats. Their shirts and Levi’s were faded and sweat-stained and a number was stenciled on the right thigh of each of the three men’s Levi’s. The same number was stenciled in back, below the beltline. The driver wore number 22; the men on the end gate, 17 and 18.
Frank Renda dismounted. He let his reins trail and came toward Karla carrying the shotgun under his arm—a man about her father’s age, in his mid-forties, but heavier than her father, thicker through chest and shoulders, and wearing a mustache, a full, untrimmed tobacco-stained mustache that almost completely covered the firm line of his mouth.
He stopped in front of Karla, blocking her view of the men in the wagon. He stood close to her, the shotgun barrel touching her skirt, but she didn’t move, not even her eyes, and she returned his gaze.
“Where’s my stuff, Karla?” He smiled saying this, but the smile was not in the sound of his voice.
“In the shed,” Karla answered.
Renda motioned toward the open shed that extended out from the east wall of the adobe. Karla saw the rider who was still mounted walk his horse toward it, his Winchester across his pommel now. Then, as the wagon moved on, passing close to her, she glanced at the two convicts on the end gate.