Father McCaig cleared his throat. The sound echoed off of the bare walls around him, magnified into a ringing call. He lowered his gaze to the book in front of him and continued reading.
“‘A certain man planted a vineyard, and set a hedge about it,’” he intoned, his Irish accent lending a rich tone to the archaic words. He paused to look out over his paltry congregation, attempting to catch each person’s eye. “‘And digged a place for th’ winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.’
“The Bible often speaks to us in metaphors. We are the Lord’s children, and He our Father. Like any parent, He gives us His message in ways we can grasp. We are each a’ us livin’ in the Lord’s vineyard.”
McCaig’s voice boomed out across the room, unnecessarily loud in the small space. The room’s ten pews, arranged side-by-side in two rows of five, sat mostly unoccupied. This was no referendum on Father McCaig; in fact, every person in town had turned out. There simply weren’t that many souls in Rosin’s Hollow anymore.
Deke, seated in the back, kept his head fixed forward. At a glance he was the picture of attentiveness. However, his eyes drifted around the tiny church, settling briefly on each person before moving to the next.
In the pew in front of him sat Raymond Ewart, a short, brash man with a penchant for solving problems with his fists. In church, Raymond was quick with the amens, his enthusiastic voice a half-step ahead of everyone else’s as if he felt religion was a contest to be won. Raymond was one of the men whose share Deke had attempted to buy upon his arrival, but Ray had spit at his offer and thrown him out. Three weeks later, he had approached Deke and magnanimously offered to take him up on it after all. When Deke told him that the price he was willing to pay had halved, Ray spat at him again and took a swing at Deke’s head. That time, Deke had been the one to do the throwing out. These days, the two of them maintained cordiality largely by ignoring each other.
Across the aisle in the same row was Porfirio, his shoulders hunched as if to conceal his massive stature. A giant port wine stain covered the left side of his face, standing out against the olive hue of his Hispanic complexion. He clutched a Bible in his huge hands as if it helped bring him closer to Father McCaig’s words. Deke knew little of the man. He had come as hired help with one of the big mining companies, and stayed on for reasons that were unclear once the mine stopped producing. He rarely spoke, but he was always prepared to lend a hand for any manual labor that needed doing.
The middle row held Elmer and Cora Everill, a young couple who had thought that this was their chance to make it big. Deke hadn’t bothered making them an offer when he and Taylor had arrived in town. He knew the look in their eyes too well. He’d seen it a thousand times in the eyes of gamblers down on their luck, convinced that just one more roll of the dice would reverse their fortunes. There was no saving them. They’d be here hoping against hope for a lucky strike until the desert killed them both.
Father McCaig’s round syllables continued to roll out over the church, washing around Deke’s thoughts like a gentle tide. “‘But th’ husbandmen said amongst themselves, This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
“‘What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the husbandmen. And he will give the vineyard unto others.’”
Clarinda Blaumer sat in the second row, nodding her agreement with the padre’s reading. Her hair was pulled up tightly on top of her head, the stiff collar of her dress matching its severity. Deke suspected that of all of the residents of Rosin, Miz Blaumer would miss Father McCaig the most. He and the others showed up on Sundays because it was the thing to do, and because even a bland change in the daily routine was better than none at all. Miz Blaumer attended services because the words truly mattered to her in a way that they did not to anyone else.
Or so Deke would have said last week. But this week, sitting in the front row and hanging on every word, was Taylor. Usually he sat in the back with Deke, watching the others and keeping an eye on the mood of the town. But since coming back from the mine, he had been different. More energized, more alert. A strange shift in any man, and doubly so from one Deke was certain had recently been a corpse.
Deke had hidden his shock last night in the bar. He’d whooped and hollered with the others, slapping Taylor on the back and calling for drinks. Taylor had looked him dead in the eye and grinned, and Deke had seen nothing but sincere joy in the boy’s eyes. No malice, no mistrust. Nothing to suggest that he remembered the fight they’d had earlier. Certainly nothing to indicate that he recollected Deke stabbing him through the heart.
And hadn’t that been a killing blow? Deke had certainly seen enough blood staining the sand from it, pouring out like an endless river. He’d wrapped the boy up, covered his face in thick canvas, jostled him along on a horse and dropped him on his head on the ground. Not to mention collapsing the mine onto him, an action lethal all by itself. Yet here Taylor sat, vibrant and alive. Deke must have been wrong somehow, the boy merely wounded.
Deke shook his head slightly. When things seemed amiss, he knew better than to believe his own eyes. For now, though, best to play along until he caught up to what was happening.
“‘In the bush,’” Father McCaig was saying, “‘God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.’”
“Amen,” called the congregation. Taylor’s voice rose above the others, more insistent even than Raymond’s. Father McCaig beamed forth at them all.
“The Lord has reached forth his hand and bestowed upon ye all a gift. ‘Tis a second chance, both for the mine and for this town. And so ye find yerselves at a crossroads. Will ye turn this wealth to earthly pleasures? Or will ye use it to the glory a’ God?”
“Glory!” cried the congregation, Taylor’s voice again rising above the rest. Deke cocked his head, narrowing his eyes almost imperceptibly. The boy’s voice carried a subtle tone, a note of amusement. It was slight, so slight that Deke couldn’t say for sure that he hadn’t imagined it. But it was one more touch of wrongness in the accumulating structure.
He had tried to speak to the boy last night, but the thin walls of the boarding house made it unwise to talk freely. Deke had had to content himself with pointed but defensible questions: “How are you doing? Where were you all day? Why didn’t you let me know you were going out to the claim?”
Deke’s eyes searched Taylor’s face as the answers came back: Fit as a fiddle. Working the claim. Really thought he must have, but couldn’t quite remember.
Each answer appeared perfectly honest, completely free of subtext. Deke, who prided himself on reading people, could find no deceit in Taylor’s voice, face or body. And he could not voice the questions he wanted to ask: Is the silver real? Do you remember telling me you didn’t need me anymore? How did you actually walk out of that mine?
Those he had postponed until later, for greater privacy than the boarding house offered. Deke had learned well the virtue of patience, and so he had let the matter lie, sleeping lightly with a knife under his pillow while Taylor slumbered across the room. He had broken his fast with the boy in the morning, listening to Taylor wax eloquent about the vein of silver he’d found deep in the mountain. He’d walked with him to church to hear the padre’s final homily before leaving, and through it all, he had shown outward calm. But inside, the questions were boiling like a kettle left too long over the fire.
“Good t’see your boy so attentive,” Father McCaig told Deke after the sermon, as they walked back toward the boarding house. “Perhaps ‘tis a fancy I tell meself, but I believe he does truly understand that this is a miracle from the Lord’s own hand.”
“He may, padre. He may,” agreed Deke. “Certainly it’s a change from the cold gruel life’s served us lately. Or will be, once we free the silver and turn all our fortunes. There’ll be plenty to tithe and plenty to take then.”
“Careful, me boyo,” said Father McCaig, smiling. “For did not Jesus say that the poor widow put in more than all the rich men had contributed together? ‘She of her want did cast in all that she had.’ ‘Tis not the amount that matters, but the meaning.”
“If that’s true, padre, then the Lord can have all of the meaning I can find in the mine. I’ll just keep the amount.”
Father McCaig laughed. “I have faith that ye’ll do the right thing. And ye’ll have your son for guidance.”
“As may be, padre,” Deke said neutrally. “As may be.”
The priest extended his hand to shake, then swept Deke into an enthusiastic hug. “‘Tis a sign, m’lad. Me work here is done, and so the Lord now passes on to all a’ ye the chance to prove yourselves. Rosin’s Hollow will thrive again, with you its new shepherds. Be steadfast in your task, for Jesus be with you.”
“I’ll do what I can to deserve your faith in me, Father.”
“You’re a good man, Deke Dambacher. Follow your conscience and it won’t steer ye wrong.”
Deke thought about blood dripping from his knife as he looked down at Taylor’s lifeless body lying under the stars. He thought about the hiss of the burning fuse fading into silence as he rode away from the mine where he’d left Taylor’s corpse. And he thought about a locked trunk in his room which contained a number of rocks of the same type found in Cerro Muerto, all threaded through with distinct veins of silver.
“It hasn’t yet, padre,” said Deke, returning the hug.